Lorde – Solar Power

24 Sep

New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde (real name Ella Yelich-O’Connor) is back with third studio album Solar Power. The album follows the four-year intervals set by her monumental debut album Pure Heroine in 2013 – which featured chart-busting single “Royals” – and then her synth-led party album Melodrama in 2017. A notoriously camera-shy and anti-pop star individual, Lorde uses the time away to recharge, mostly in her native country; both times, she’s come back with a starkly different sound.

In 2017, we were blown away by Melodrama – the pulsing electro-pop sounds, a greater diversity in her vocals, and the surprising focus on the piano throughout the party songs. Melodrama was a concept album, documenting the whirlwind of emotions that goes through the mind of a young twentysomething at a house party. The album was in direct contrast to Pure Heroine which focused on a can’t-be-bothered teenaged rebellion against popularity, trends and, yes, house parties. Between Melodrama and Pure Heroine, Lorde’s range was astounding, and the future looked rosy for fans of the reclusive young artist.

Lorde has said that each of the two albums is based on the different vices she was hooked on at the time – alcohol for the first (despite the seeming reference to heroin) and MDMA for the second. With Solar Power, the vice of choice was apparently weed (she attempted it to be LSD but that didn’t quite work out). While musical history has no shortage of iconic albums that were invigorated by marijuana, the results are mixed for Solar Power.

It’s is not a bad album by any stretch. The title track, which we’ve previously covered, is a pleasant summery track with a catchy outro hook (“That solar-olar-olar power / Solar-olar-olar power”) and lyrics about unhooking oneself from the outside world (“And I throw my cellular device in the water / Can you reach me? No, you can’t”). “Dominoes” is a stripped down track that’s pretty much her voice and a plucky guitar – in a way, it’s the closest match to her Pure Heroine discography. Her voice is bright and shiny when it’s unencumbered by too much production.

Fallen Fruit” is beautiful with its folksy vibe and guitar strums that are part Renaissance Faire (think Greensleeves) and part Laurel Canyon singing circle. “Mood Ring”, the third and final single from the album, is a light, airy track that apparently critiques another peak California culture – wellness culture. “I’m tryna get well from the inside / Plants and celebrity news, all the vitamins I consume / Let’s fly somewherе eastern, they’ll havе what I need,” is perfectly fair satire of new-age Californian hippies. (We must note that the satire is a little hypocritical when Lorde herself just came off from what seems like a four-year recovery-from-fame break on New Zealand beaches, but we’ll save that for another day.)

Speaking of California, “California” is an interesting take compared to the thousands of other odes to the Golden State; this one’s a break-up song. California – or specifically, Hollywood – proved to be the fertile ground for this album, but Lorde’s had enough of the place and who she is there. “Goodbye to all the bottles, all the models / Bye to the clouds in thе skies that all hold no rain,” she sings in the lilting pre-chorus, “Don’t want that California love”. It’s a nice, pretty song that somehow evokes Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (which is also how the song starts) while rejecting the pop cultural idea of California as a success metric.

That’s the thing though – they’re all nice, pretty songs. And if that’s what you were looking for, then Solar Power is the Lorde album for you. “Big Star” is a sweet yet ultimately featureless track. Ditto with “Leader of a New Regime” – it’s pretty tough to latch onto a detail in the song’s 2 ½ minute run. Second single “Stoned at the Nail Salon” is yet another gentle track that features Lorde on multi-level harmonies with herself and also a truly telling lyric: “’Cause all the music you loved at sixteen you’ll grow out of”.

And really, that’s the whole story: Lorde grew out of who we thought she was. She isn’t the rebellious young teenager who made Pure Heroine, and not even the partying early-twentysomething who made Melodrama. She’s a blissed-out, media-phobic young woman with a strong love for folksy guitar music, and that’s what’s reflected in Solar Power. Props to her for putting out exact reflections of her life stages; unfortunately, for us, this one just didn’t stick all the way through.

Rating: 6.5/10

Best songs: “Solar Power”, “California”, “Dominoes”

Worst songs: “The Man with the Axe”, “Big Star”, “Leader of a New Regime”

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