Lorde – Solar Power

It's all change for Lorde, as the New Zealander returns with a strangely subdued third album

Album Review by Joe Goggins | 19 Aug 2021
  • Lorde - Solar Power
Album title: Solar Power
Artist: Lorde
Label: Universal
Release date: 20 Aug

The title track from this third Lorde record raised eyebrows when it landed back in June, signalling as it did a dramatic stylistic left turn. Breezy acoustic guitars, gentle vocal melodies, a chord progression with an unshakable likeness to Primal Scream’s Movin’ on Up; it all came together to form something a world away from Pure Heroine’s icy electronic minimalism or Melodrama’s dense atmospherics. The irony was hard to miss; a track mellow and summery by design felt like a short, sharp shock to those well acquainted with the New Zealander’s past work.

That title track is not an outlier. The rest of Solar Power is in much the same vein, and for as laid-back as it’s supposed to sound, there has very clearly been a concerted effort to put clear blue water between the Lorde of old and the Lorde of 2021. A cursory listen is enough to confirm that in a musical sense – it’s soft, woozy, melodically loose. Further investigation reveals that this approach seems to have spread to every aspect of Lorde's songwriting. Where Melodrama was razor-sharp in the universally relatable picture it painted of late adolescence, Solar Power drifts to a place altogether more impressionistic. 

The quietly undulating Fallen Fruit is a stark elegy for the planet before the climate crisis; Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All) reflects on how grief’s changed her, specifically the loss of her dog – incidentally, it closes with a bizarre, uncredited spoken-word contribution from Robyn. Mood Ring may or may not be a send-up of hippie ideals and wellness culture. Closing track Oceanic Feeling, meanwhile, borders on stream-of-consciousness in its diffuse wander through everything from childhood memories to ruminations on starting her own family.

There are moments that hark back to the past thematically; she’s alienated in Los Angeles on California, and quietly batting away restlessness on Stoned at the Nail Salon. On the latter, she sings that “all the music you loved at 16, you’ll grow out of”, and on this evidence, it’s true of her, at least. When you think about how powerfully she put together massive choruses on the likes of Green Light and Perfect Places, the lack of structure to Solar Power’s songs is startling. 

The album’s opening line, “born in the year of OxyContin”, perhaps unwittingly sets the stage for what’s to follow – the album feels thoroughly tamped down both in terms of energy and emotion. That is inevitably something that transmits from artist to listener; there’s nothing to match the thrill of hearing her pull back the veil and treat us to a glimpse of pop’s future on Pure Heroine, or the empathy engendered by Melodrama's visceral account of young adulthood.

Lorde knows this – on the record’s penultimate verse, she tells us “the cherry-black lipstick’s gathering dust in the drawer.” She might have slammed it shut a little too hastily.

Listen to: Stoned at the Nail Salon, Fallen Fruit, Oceanic Feeling