Solar Power review: The solstice-powered soundtrack of the summer
There was a lot of pressure on Lorde to create a spectacular third album after her debut album, Pure Heroine (she released at the youthful age of 16), was critically acclaimed and considered an electropop masterpiece that changed the way society viewed teen girls forever. Her second record, Melodrama, although not as commercially successful, wowed critics all around the world and remains an album that has truly altered the traditional perception of modern music. The Starman himself, David Bowie, even labelled Lorde’s artistic influence, the “future of music”. Quite a standard to live up to, which would of course make any musician feel the pressure on what to deliver next.
Solar Power could not be more different to her past work. The one thing that does remain the same though, is her lyrical sharp wit and self-awareness. But gone is the chaos and the darkness from where she created her image and is replaced by a new sense of her self-exploration. In fact, she even sings: “Now the cherry-black lipstick is gathering dust in the drawer, I don’t need her anymore”, in the song “Oceanic Feeling”. Lorde knows exactly who she is and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. And she’s telling us this in a serene, solstice-powered record that is as sun-soaked as it is breezy.
It’s a known and sadly accepted fact that every woman in the music industry must be constantly reinventing themselves and their personality in order to stay relevant and successful. Yet for Lorde, despite the obvious huge change in genre and tone, Solar Power does not seem like a reinvention but rather a trip back to her roots, that both she and I as a listener desperately needed.
Lorde herself described the record as a “sun worship album”, and that it definitely is. This album is sun-kissed and drowsy, as lazy as a summer afternoon, and utterly glazed in a peaceful serenity. It is also hugely nostalgic for someone who is only 24 years old. Lorde sure does have a lot of lessons to look back on, and a seemingly endless supply of earthly advice. She even calls herself a “prettier Jesus” in the title track. Honestly? Fair enough.
Production-wise, Solar Power is scaled back. Gone is the synth and electro beats that Lorde so adored in her past work. Instead, we have been given an album so sonically cohesive and calm. Songs flow into one another as easily as a sauvignon flows into a glass on a sunny evening. Lorde worked with Jack Antonoff on this album, who is a God of music production and has so many Grammy’s under his belt it’s kind of getting ridiculous at this point. You probably think you don’t know who he is, but if you’ve listened to Taylor Swift, Lana Del Ray, Sia, Troye Sivan, or evidently, Lorde, chances are you partly have him to thank for it.
This record witnesses Lorde embrace nature completely and deal with topics from climate fear to ageing. For an artist who used to fear acoustic guitars, this is a very acoustic album. It’s no doubt a summer record and I truly can’t imagine listening to it in winter. But right now, mid-August, it’s a perfect album where you can envision yourself sipping a cool lemonade in a tiny café abroad with minuscule parasols shielding you from the late afternoon sun, as your thighs stick to the plastic seat. Basically, it’s refreshing as hell.
“The Path” is the perfect opening track. It embodies a zen romanticism of escapism and as Lorde croons “won’t take the call if it’s the label or the radio” the listener is reminded once again of how critical Lorde can be of the world of celebrity and pop culture. It’s a kind of dignity she has held ever since “Royals” in 2013. When she says she has “nightmares from the camera flash”, one is hit with a stark realisation that this way of life is not just a middle finger to pop idol culture ( “if you’re looking for a saviour, well that’s not me”), it’s a defence mechanism too. The song, like most of the work on this album, manages to feel hugely optimistic and yet highly dismissive.
Her stunning track, “California” also sees Lorde reflecting on a lifestyle she wants to leave behind: Tequila is a trigger now, she sings. It’s as if Lorde has grown out of her LA dream and this album truly solidifies this as she also mentions that she doesn’t want that “California Love”.
Despite the obvious change in style and outlook, her harmonies that have played such a huge part in developing her musical identity, run rife throughout this album in a way that leaves one picturing a bunch of hippies with shabby guitars and varying levels of vocal competency singing around a fire on the beach – and honestly, I love it. The album is full of love songs, but not necessarily about a relationship, but instead built on her love for her family as mentioned in “Oceanic feeling”, and her departed dog whom she refers to in “Big Star”.
Listening to the track, “Secret’s from a girl (who’s seen it all)”, it seems that Lorde is as unequivocally obsessed with the concept of ageing as she has been since her debut album. In her song “Ribs”, which featured on Pure Heroine, she sings, “It feels so scary getting old.” Now, nearly 8 years later, she says “you blink, and it’s been ten years.” It’s an enlightened Lorde, looking back on all the lessons she’s learned so far. It has an endearingly early two thousand-like pop melody, which is just the right amount of cheese and completely juxtaposes the tone of the song. It’s also a repetition of the same two chords used in “Ribs” but just reversed. She’s now the age she feared so much when she was writing “Ribs”, but it is evident from her lyricism that she’s at peace with this. She’s wiser, and she’s making more confident music that expresses her growth as an artist and individual.
Solar Power is a mature record filled with sun-kissed optimism and drunk serenity. This album does not demand to be listened to; rather is a gift to those who appreciate the essence of opening a new chapter that breathes a brighter outlook on life when it is most needed. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is; a summer record that will go on to be timeless and joyful. The perfect soundtrack for a summer spent with friends and loved ones, and of course full of perfect quotes for those sunny Instagram snaps. It is truly like she never left, but welcome back, Lorde.