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Lorde ‘Solar Power’ review: behind the summery sheen lies lacklustre tunes

Rating:

In an album that is dividing critics and fans alike, Lorde is back with a new, very distinctive era with Solar Power. In an attempt to follow up her hit debut album Pure Heroine and groundbreaking Melodrama, New Zealand’s Ella Yelich-O’Connor moved in a bold, new direction, towards a ’60s inspired beach track. Upon release, her titular track was surprising in its change of sound, and held potential. ‘Solar Power’ promised us something big: “blink three times when you feel it kicking in.” But it’s a pastiche of ‘Green Light’ and never amounts to the same climax; the subsequent songs are also washed up.

Despite the four years Lorde spent on this album, it feels rushed – the songs feel incomplete, like they haven’t been pushed to their limits, although she has curated a seamless aesthetic. The acoustic guitar is overdone, and many songs seem to blend together, particularly in the second half of the album. Producer Jack Antonoff’s presence is unmistakeable, with his trademark stripped back instruments, which unfortunately makes the album feel like a not too distant relative of Taylor Swift’s folklore or Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! (both albums he helped produce.) NFR! feels particularly present here, with some of Lorde’s lyrics not too dissimilar from Del Rey’s terrible poetry. The same tepid tone leaks into every track. ‘Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)’ has a catchy chorus, and her whiplash at the passage of time (“Couldn’t wait to turn fifteen/Then you blink and it’s been ten years”) is endearing, however the ending with Robyn’s voice-over feels cheesy. ‘The Man with the Axe’ bleeds into it, bearing little significance, and ‘Big Star’ is equally not very memorable, lacking a distinct melody. The chorus of ‘The Path’ builds but feels disconnected to the ethereal, raspy verses before, and doesn’t feel like a strong song to open the album.

She tries to cram summer into an album but overlooks the varying moods of the season after all, it’s not always sunny

In an interview with The New Yorker, Lorde revealed that she was harking back to the ‘commune culture’ and wild child lifestyle of the ’60s, and yet forgets that these artists she draws so much inspiration from also took influences from rock and punk and played around with the limits of music, not just wholesome beach vibes. She tries to cram summer into an album but overlooks the varying moods of the season – after all, it’s not always sunny. Running away to the beach is a fair dream but unrealistic for most of us, especially in pandemic times. It feels like Lorde is forcing a vision which we aren’t on board with yet, uncalibrated to the mood of the world: no matter how hard it tries, Solar Power doesn’t feel organic. It’s clear from her interviews that she has thought about this album intensely, which makes you want to like Solar Power because everything feels purposeful. And yet, unfortunately for Lorde, this change hasn’t paid off, and the album is hard to connect to.

Some listeners have complained that 2014 Lorde would hate her today whilst others in response say that listeners don’t enjoy the album because they aren’t as ‘happy’ as Lorde appears to be. These arguments are flawed: it’s natural for Lorde to want to experiment, people change, and it is unfair to dichotomise the selves. It also invalidates people’s permission to dislike this album, not for its change of tone (which could have been exciting) but mostly for its lacklustre quality that had never clouded Lorde before.

Whilst many of the songs are washed up, there are small pockets of fun in Solar Power. ‘California’ is flirty, reminiscent of a life and past lover in California that feel very far away. ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon’ feels soft and dreamy, perfectly encapsulating the indulgence of her lifestyle but also the conflict about who she is outside of this day to day floating. She has a wishbone just in case she needs to change her mind, and confesses “I’d ride and I’d ride on the carousel/’Round and ’round forever if I could,” – an echo of her transcendental ‘Ribs’ where she confesses “it feels so scary getting old.” 

‘Fallen Fruit’ is one of the songs that feels like it is pushing a sound that fills the song rather than meanders weakly through it. It also hints at our climate crisis, as our generation is left with the fallen fruit of hyper-capitalist overproduction and ravaged ecosystems. This sense of hopelessness and climate anxiety is seen in her doubts about “how can I love what I know I am gonna lose?” Ironically, for an album titled Solar Power, the climate imagery isn’t pushed much further. She plays around with it more in ‘Leader of a New Regime’, but it falls flat in her imaginary landscape of a ravaged earth, as bleak and monotone as her melody.

This album has lost the fun edge that Melodrama had and the relatability that Pure Heroine encapsulated of her insightful teenage angst

‘Oceanic Feeling’ (a phrase coined by Freud referring to ‘a sensation of “eternity”’) is deeply reflective and existential, looking at the value of family and her past and future selves – this sense of contemplation latent in her other albums is finally peeping through, but is cut off as the album closes. Meanwhile, ‘Mood Ring’ feels like the only real pop song on the album, with a catchy tune and lyrics that are light and humorous, suggesting “you can burn sage, and I’ll cleanse the crystals.” But it’s also desperately sad as she confesses “I don’t feel a thing,” and so looks at her mood ring to find any clarity in this wellbeing culture that leaves no room for self-doubt. ‘Dominoes’ feels like ‘Mood Ring’’s little sister, almost identical in sound and lyrics but lingers in the background.

Her usual insightfulness is lost on this hippie track – what is she actually saying? Melodrama and Pure Heroine were so clearly defined but this feels ambiguous and directionless, and not in a good way, never really amounting to anything. This album has lost the fun edge that Melodrama had and the relatability that Pure Heroine encapsulated of her insightful teenage angst. Perhaps most interesting is her repeated probes into what her life means as a pop star in the day to day – and yet her qualms of celebrityhood feel distant for most of us.

This album is mediocre at best, and it’s simply a disappointment that it’s a Lorde album. I don’t really feel like she’s given us either anything of herself, or a significant contribution to music, as she did with her last two, unable to break down the barriers that so tightly confine this album sonically and lyrically. This album is a let-down after the hype, the wait, and the precedent she’s set. Will people still listen? Yes. Is it life changing? No. Sorry, Lorde.

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