Reviews by mars
Lorde’s Solar Power review: The pop songstress trades shadows for sunlight on her subdued third album (7.5/10)
Lorde has always done her best to stray away from the spotlight. Her debut single, “Royals,” was a flawless critique of the lifestyles of the rich and famous that (ironically) led to her meteoric rise to fame. At just 17-years-old, she had two Grammy Awards to her name alongside critical acclaim. The commercial success of her debut album, Pure Heroine, and its 2017 follow-up, Melodrama, both solidified Lorde’s star power and cemented a new wave of minimalist pop production. A stark departure from the ubiquitous EDM that dominated Top 40 at the time, Lorde’s lo-fi sound set the stage for what was to come in pop music as now seen across Billie Eilish’s debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Olivia Rodrigo’s record-shattering Sour, and even influencing her dear friend, Taylor Swift, and some of her latest musical ventures.
When an artist’s sound is so well-known and respected, when one’s stylistic choices create a lasting impact on the sound of popular music, how can an artist successfully walk the fine line between capitalizing on what already works without sounding repetitive and venturing into new territory without it feeling like a misstep? It’s a tale as old as time for artists following up the albums that elevated them to new levels of fame. See Swift’s shift from Red to her record-breaking 1989 to the electropop of reputation right back to the pastels of Lover. Similarly, Eilish’s Happier Than Ever found the teen superstar pushing aside the bold production style that made her a household name for a quieter, more timeless sound. In an era with such external noise distracting us from the beauty of daily life, Lorde’s Solar Power (released August 20, 2021) showcases the singer-songwriter breezing her way through a new subdued sound while keeping some of her classic melodic tricks up her sleeve.
Following the conclusion of Melodrama’s house party, the New Zealander took the time to decompress and retreat from the spotlight: to reflect on life, remove herself from the pressures of fame, and revitalize her connection to both humanity and nature. And granted, a year-and-a-half-long (and counting) global pandemic will surely allow for that time. Following the end of her 2018 tour, she deleted her social media accounts, visited Antarctica, fell in love with nature, and now spends time speaking out about the reality of climate change. On Solar Power, Lorde trades in the “red and chrome” wreckage of the party life for pure serotonin as she embarks on a journey of self-realization while paying homage to the beauty of summer in New Zealand.
Many of Solar Power’s songs envelop listeners into the sounds of the world around us. Nearly all of the album’s production reflects the salt air of New Zealand summers through its dominant inclusion of acoustic guitar builds. Solar Power’s quieter production allows Lorde to tap into the soft pop trend of the early 2000s while balancing the line of timelessness. Echoes of cicadas flow through the album’s finale, and “Dominoes” features sirens from outside Electric Lady Studios in New York City, where part of the album was recorded, during last summer’s protests. “I like that it sounds like how that summer sounded,” she said during an interview with Spotify. The inclusion of these ambient sounds further extend Solar Power’s reach and seamlessly bring listeners into Lorde’s vision.
The theme of retreating from fame is a thread woven throughout Lorde's entire discography. This time around, its delivery transcends through musical dreamscapes of the natural world. Album opener “The Path” is an almost-theatrical prologue that incorporates a slight ‘90s production influence and immediately lets listeners know that she’s saying au revoir to superstardom. “Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash / Now I’m alone on a windswept island,” she admits while stating she “won’t take the call if it’s the label or the radio,” all delivered through a hypnotizing vocal delivery.
On the album’s lead single and title track, Lorde comically “[throws] her cellular device in the water,” detaching from the pressures of the business. “Can you reach me? No, you can’t.” Upon its release, “Solar Power” drew mixed reviews from fans and critics alike. Both sonically and thematically, the era’s introduction marked a blunt departure from Lorde’s previous work; nonetheless, “Power” works best within the boundaries of the album's tracklist and as an all-encompassing thesis statement for the record.
Album highlight “California” has Lorde reflecting on celebrity and her decision to escape the superficiality of the West Coast for the beaches and warmth of her homeland. The track opens with how her Grammy wins forever altered the course of her life, and while she’s grateful for the recognition and respect, she “doesn’t miss the poison arrows aimed directly at [her] head.” On album closer “Oceanic Feelings,” Lorde looks back on her past as she ponders her future. It’s a freeflow of wandering thoughts that say goodbye to the Pure Heroine era’s “cherry black lipstick gathering dust in a drawer” and details thoughts about what her daughter may one day look like. It’s a massive leap in maturity for Lorde's signature diaristic songwriting, which is the album's best feature.
Despite the summertime aesthetic, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows on Solar Power. On “Fallen Fruit,” she blames her parents’ generation for the current state of our planet’s climate change issues. “Big Star” has Lorde mourning the loss of her dog, Pearl. “But every perfect summer’s gotta say goodnight / Now I watch you run through the amber light / I used to love the party, now I’m not alright,” she confesses through a lovely tie back to her younger self.
And while the pairing’s work on Solar Power offers listeners a new side of Lorde to explore, there is neither a clear smash hit on the album nor a song that screams single potential. There is no intensity delivered as beautifully as the 1-2-3 punch of Melodrama’s “Green Light,” “Sober,” and “Homemade Dynamite” (latest single “Mood Ring” is the closest the album comes to matching the uptempo highs of its predecessor). This should not come as a surprise to her biggest supporters: she’s made it abundantly clear for years now that she has no interest in exchanging commercial success for artistry. Long-time Lorde fans will gladly welcome the latest evolution from their favorite musician, but the average listener who enjoyed the synthesizers and maximalist hooks of Lorde’s past will have to dig deeper to find a home within the world of Solar Power.
This feels like a new beginning for our favorite New Zealander. It’s a fresh start, the sunrise following Melodrama’s shadowy night. It’s both a well-executed genre shift and an honest peek into the world of one of this generation’s most consistent singer-songwriters. More than anything, it’s clear that the cynical 16-year-old on “Royals” has matured into a young woman who knows exactly what she wants for herself. The old Lorde created music that predominantly reflected her pain - and masterfully so. Today, she is still grieving the loss of both romantic and familial love but is instead turning toward the light to overcome the darkness. There’s just the sonic and thematic distance in this body of work that keeps listeners at an arm’s length - and that very well may be intentional. She’s keeping her phone on Airplane Mode, soaking up some UV rays, and choosing her own happiness above all else.
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NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.