When the pandemic brought an abrupt end to my senior year of high school in March 2020, I dutifully continued working four days a week.
I couldn’t stay at home all day, but what I could do to pass the time was drive and listen to music. Eventually, I settled into a routine: Leave an hour early, put on “Melodrama” by Lorde and finish the album by the time I get to work.
I probably listened to “Melodrama” end to end close to a hundred times between March and June. No music has ever felt so personal and relatable to me before or since.
“Solar Power,” Lorde’s new album, doesn’t live up to “Melodrama.”
Nothing could have.
I don’t say this to be a pessimist, but I’ll be writing about a decent album as if it’s a disappointment. I knew “Solar Power” wouldn’t touch me the same way “Melodrama” did, and that’s okay, but knowing it’s okay doesn’t take away the sting.
“Solar Power” finds Lorde laying on the beach, smoking weed and contemplating life while Jack Antonoff sits nearby strumming away on his guitar like it’s either the 60s or the 2000s. It’s a sound almost entirely divorced from the pop maximalism and heavy synths of Lorde’s previous work, her vocals and lyrics the only through lines.
In her 73 Questions interview with Vogue, Lorde described “Pure Heroine” as teen angst and “Melodrama” as ecstasy. “Solar Power,” then, is revelation. She spends all 12 songs of the record contemplating her decisions and looking for guidance on drugs, celebrity, family, her home and finally, the earth itself.
“Now if you’re looking for a savior, well that’s not me,” Lorde sings in “The Path,” the album’s opening track. Despite her promise to be like “a prettier Jesus” on the album’s title track, Lorde makes it clear that she found her own inner happiness in the beauty of the natural world.
Really it’s Lorde’s perception of nature that shines through most brilliantly on the album. From turning to the sun for inspiration in “The Path” to critiquing previous generations for their role in climate change in “Fallen Fruit,” no one can deny the beach is at the heart of “Solar Power.”
Lorde used to hate guitar; It’s sound is conspicuously absent from both “Pure Heroine” and “Melodrama.” But you can’t drag a piano to the waterfront to perform ballads like “Liability” or “Writer in the Dark.” By contrast, I have no issue picturing Lorde on the boardwalk singing songs off the new album like “Stoned at the Nail Salon” or “Dominoes.”
The whole album feels like Lorde’s giving her audience a hug and telling them everything will be all right. Not that everything will go our way — “Big Star” is a heartbreaking description of Lorde’s emotional state after her dog died — but that problems like growing up and navigating relationships that seemed insurmountable in songs like “Ribs” can eventually be overcome.
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I didn’t expect to meet optimistic Lorde, but I like her. She radiates joy and a carefree attitude, two emotions sorely missing in mine and my friends’ lives during the course of the pandemic.
Still, I can’t stop the nagging voice at the back of my head; “What would 2013 Lorde have to say?”
“Royals” is by far Lorde’s most commercially successful song. It launched her career from obscurity to global stardom and remained on top of the charts for 9 weeks. There’s an irony in Lorde becoming a millionaire and a household name off a song that critiques celebrity culture and stars who flaunt their wealth.
Lorde casually name drops Uma Thurman and the Princess of Norway and sings about watching supermodels dancing around a pharaoh’s tomb at the Met Gala on her new album, but she hasn’t lost her cynicism. After all, she stole a fork from the Gala, and she confides in “Oceanic Feeling” that she’s been more interested in the sounds of waves and cicadas than keeping up with celebrity culture.
But “Solar Power” Lorde and “Pure Heroine” Lorde aren’t the same.
“Now the cherry black lipstick’s gathering dust in a drawer,” Lorde says in “Oceanic Feeling,” referencing the shade of lipstick she wore for numerous appearances in 2013 and 2014, as well as her music video for “Tennis Court.”
Lorde has left behind the scared and introverted 16 year old in favor of her own peace, and I’m happy for her. Her happiness, while at times grudging and melancholy, was hard-earned.
That doesn’t mean it resulted in an album that will hold my attention for the next four years.
I listen to music constantly while studying or writing, but there are a few albums I avoid playing in the background. “Melodrama” and “Pure Heroine” are two of them. Even after four and eight years respectively, I can’t help but focus on the music when it comes on.
I won’t have that problem with “Solar Power.” Despite how much I loved “The Path,” “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” “Fallen Fruit” and “Mood Ring,” the album as a whole is weighed down by songs like “”The Man with the Axe” and “Leader of a New Regime” which fade away easily as soon as something else catches my attention.
Try as Lorde might to convince us otherwise, nothing on “Solar Power” will hit as hard as anything on “Melodrama” or a good deal of “Pure Heroine.”