Arts and Entertainment

Lorde’s Sunny Return

Lorde’s third studio album, “Solar Power,” immerses some in her island paradise, while others are left drifting away.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Iris Lin

During the era of her debut album, “Pure Heroine” (2013), Lorde topped the charts wearing all black and smoky eyeliner and with a voice that rasped her rejection of celebrity culture. Following the massively successful album release, she escaped to New Zealand, her suburban hometown, for four years, explaining in a later interview that being in the public eye “can kind of [EXPLETIVE] with you if you’re a kid.” These spontaneous hiatuses to remote places and Lorde’s prioritization of the quiet moments in her life are reflected in her music. In her second studio album, “Melodrama” (2017), she continued to develop her sound with layered melodies, thumping synths, and grimy percussion, writing about secret love affairs, nights spent partying, and the insecurities that come with youth. Four years after “Melodrama,” Lorde’s return was met with great anticipation, and the expectations for her third album were sky-high, yet the release of “Solar Power” faced mixed reviews from even the most die-hard of Lorde fans.

At a glance, “Solar Power” doesn’t have the angsty lyricism and broody nature that Lorde’s previous albums are known for; instead, it’s bright and breezy, and it subverts all expectations. The title track introduces a fanciful world where girls dance barefoot in sundresses and Lorde herself frolics around the beach, smoking a fennel bulb bong. As she dances to Jack Antonoff’s strumming guitar and wispy vocal stacks, she invites her listeners to join her: “It’s a new state of mind / Are you coming, my baby?”

From the album’s first track, “The Path,” we’re reminded of Lorde’s craving for normalcy in her life. She’s got a “fork in [her] purse to take home to [her] mother” and hopes “the sun will show [her] the path.” This track nicely establishes the tone for the rest of the record, which continues to explore themes of appreciating nature and life at its finest.

Gentle guitar picking and hushed percussion drive the music along, but it’s Lorde’s lyricism that continues to set her apart. In “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” her music takes a darker, more introspective turn as she reflects on the passing of time and her decisions in life: “Got a wishbone drying on the windowsill in my kitchen / Just in case I wake up and realize I’ve chosen wrong.” Even the most successful of artists aren’t exempt from feeling bouts of insecurity or uncertainty of being left behind. In this way, Lorde captures the transition into adulthood as a musician. She concludes the track with “Maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon again,” questioning the validity of her struggle to find fulfillment in life.

Much of “Solar Power” is about self acceptance, but Lorde also tackles broader issues like climate change with songs like “Fallen Fruit,” singing, “Through the halls of splendor where the apple trees all grew / You’ll leave us dancing on the fallen fruit.” These lyrics are a reference to the Garden of Eden and the fruit Adam and Eve ate, which created hapless consequences for future generations. Lorde recognizes that the abuse of “fruit,” or resources, caused “Eden,” or the environment, to suffer. Now, current generations are left with the burden of the “fallen fruit” that our predecessors produced.

Many of the topics explored in this record are characteristic of Lorde; she writes about heartbreak in “The Man with the Axe” and dismisses her celebrity status in songs like “California.” However, she branches out on tracks like “Dominoes” and “Mood Ring,” choosing to satirically comment on modern wellness culture. In an interview with Genius, Lorde mentioned her realization that wellness practices are often “[adopted by] white women [...] in a way which [...] can be pretty bad” for indigenous peoples and how it’s amusing that humans are so reliant on things like tarot readings and horoscopes.

Despite Lorde’s consistently poetic songwriting, some feel that the sparse production undercuts the album’s overall emotional intensity. In “Mood Ring,” the usage of chimes and the triangle adds to the light atmosphere. In “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All),” Swedish singer-songwriter Robyn performs a spoken word interlude. Some listeners, though, critiqued the lack of direction within the album, faulting the overly long spoken portions and largely acoustic background instruments. Additionally, the lack of bridges throughout the record was upsetting, given the already minimal production and instrumentation. The only songs with bridges were “Fallen Fruit” and “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” creating unfulfilled potential and leaving audiences bereft. Overall, many felt underwhelmed by the emotional depth of “Solar Power” in comparison to “Melodrama” and “Pure Heroine.” Pitchfork went as far as to ask, “Shouldn’t an album about climate grief and puppy grief and social grief by one of the best pop songwriters of her generation make you feel something?”

The diversity of topics mentioned within the album, from environmental crises to existential crises, lacks the cohesion to be properly developed. Her tracks commenting on topics like pseudo-wellness piqued interest but weren’t fully expanded on. It can be difficult to get the point, especially when the already stripped-back vocals and instrumentals expose every facet of the album’s structural integrity. Every track sonically belongs to “Solar Power,” but the themes don’t mesh as smoothly with one another. The listeners are left floating in a textureless haze with no destination in sight.

It’s important to go into “Solar Power” with the understanding that it is Lorde’s “full circle” album. She’s not trying to hammer nails into the coffin holding “Pure Heroine” (her “cherry black lipstick’s” just “gatherin’ dust in a drawer”). She’s no longer the girl who’s scared of “getting old.” She’s the girl “who’s seen it all.” In a way, this record is Lorde’s love letter to life, one that would do us all some good to listen to.