By Emma Frank
To be honest, I was scared to listen to Solar Power. I have been waiting for this album for years and Lorde is a musician whose music I find deeply personal. Her music has riddled my teen years, it has always been there, and it has always been a comfort. I’ve always liked Lorde, but last year I started thinking about how much I like Lorde, I would stretch the premises of English assignments to talk about Lorde, I would listen to her albums with my friends and stop it every 10 seconds to explain a lyric like a genius interview, I was obsessed - and now that the album is out, the build-up was done, and I was afraid of what happens after.
I listened to Pure Heroine and Melodrama before daring to listen. I have heard negative reviews left and right, and I will not take to any of them, I want this review to be encapsulating my relationship with Lorde and nothing else.
Lorde's first album, Pure Heroine, was a cultural milestone: forever changing the music played on pop stations. Particularly the song ‘Royals’ entirely changed the zeitgeist of pop music towards a more downtempo, stripped back and satirical medium. Pure Heroine was a window into her teenage years in New Zealand, what she was experiencing and what she was missing out on. It evokes images of nostalgia, angst, regret and comfort. It carries many interesting ideas; in particular, fearing growing up and fear of what she’ll leave behind as per her skyrocketing success at this time. Simultaneously, this album isn’t perfect: it is rough around the edges and could be more stylistically versatile (a trap many bedroom pop artists today are caught in). Still, it was an amazing album - Lorde had nowhere to go but up.
That brings us to Melodrama. This will forever be my favourite album, and as I grow older and change, I find myself always coming back to it.
Lorde has had an interesting career: back in 2014 circa 2015 maybe anticipated she would be the cornerstone of ‘brooding pop’ and alternative music, meanwhile, artists were emerging like Charli XCX, who appeared to be bubblegum pop's incoming princess. But on the second of March 2017, it became clear who Lorde was going to be. On this day, the leading single from Melodrama was released, ‘Green Light’, a song I can only describe as a “spiritual rebirth” of sorts. Lorde emerged from hiatus with a song about still being in love, but choosing to move on, and while this character emerged back into her world, Lorde returned to the mainstream this time dominating dance-pop. Interestingly, while at the same time Charli XCX was abandoning her ties to radio pop and instead, returning to experiment with hyper pop. Overall, Melodrama is a much more mature album as compared to Pure Heroine. This time guided by the talents of Jack Antonoff, producing alternative dance-pop, and writing outside her perspective, Lorde truly blossomed. During this era, she released some of my favourite songs ever, in particular, ‘Writer in the Dark’ which detailed the protagonist's journey of falling back in love with being alive after heartbreak and loss. ‘Writer in the Dark’ and Melodrama as a whole, although not explicitly about Lorde, was an incredibly intimate, wise and special project. And because of this, I am forever grateful I live in a time where music like this is being created.
In short, it was a lot to live up to. The hiatus and writing process set expectations high. On top of this, I purchased tickets to the tour only after one song was released from the album rollout.
There’s nothing like starting an album. The feeling that it could be anything. Literally anything. And the feeling that the first listen is something you can never experience again. Simply, you don’t know where these songs will take you, what they will be the soundtrack to, whether they will be the background fodder to conversations, whether they will ring through your 20s and beyond, or whether they will never be heard again. But it’s Lorde, what could go wrong?
The Path felt like a step into the world of Solar Power. It was enchanting, mellow yet cinematic. As far as my personal interpretation goes, it recontextualizes the album. What once was a celebration of relaxation, rest and Mother Nature turned to an attempt to mend the soul through the exterior world. “Let’s hope the sun will show us the path” rang to me as fearful, where Solar Power journeyed the listener through overindulgence, making us ask the question: is it a distraction? Or is it healing?
The title track Solar Power seemed like a well-deserved rest. It included very playful and close soft vocals that built to an explosion of sound by the end of the song. I want to be honest though - I'm not sure it was enough as the initial release, in my opinion, the end of the song could have been bigger. Still, my joy for her return, in what seemed to be a wiser and maturer Lorde triumphed over these concerns.
California served as a letter to the experience of celebrity, what she misses, what she regrets, and how that made her the person she is now. I liked the haunting vocals on the chorus and the spotlight on the lyrics through the stripped back instrumentation on the verses.
Stoned in the Nail Salon has grown on me a lot since its initial release. It is a song about coming to peace with maturing and changing, but also being detached from reality. The very title itself ‘Stoned in the Nail Salon’ reigns of not being present and in your own thoughts. This isn’t a good analysis, but it’s very pretty - it’s pretty, and it’s sad. Notions of forcing yourself to move on with your life, despite clearly being nostalgic for another time, or what once was, bears similarities to ‘Writer in the Dark'. However this time peace is attained, the loss is underlying, as opposed to the overt loss and journey towards healing as seen in ‘Writer in the Dark'.
Fallen Fruit, this was an interesting track. The echoing guitars, fluttery production and haunting vocals presented a biblical and ancient narrative. It felt like embarking on an adventure, maybe one that would end as a cautionary tale or tragedy, but a journey nonetheless.
The next track, Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All), I didn’t immediately connect with. The songwriting harkened back to an earlier time in her career (not necessarily in a negative way), while the airy, plucky instrumentation reminded me of the royalty-free backing tracks that used to be used in youtube videos in 2014. If Solar Power is about maturing as a whole, “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)” is the Buzzfeed of the millennial experience. I do like this song though. I appreciate the hypnotic audio in the ending, playing out as an airline video or a guided meditation; I appreciate the weirder elements of production on this record.
The Man with An Axe felt like walking through a gallery of your own life, despite the cliche. It was pleasant, in terms of lyrics and production. The swooping ambience rang like the quiet of a mind, reflecting on everything that has happened and is to come.
Dominoes was a short, chirpy and sassy transitional track where Lorde was exploring how people change overtime, but how they don’t really in hindsight. It reminded me of some of the notions in “Green Light '' where Lorde critzicses a past-love’s new patterns, but this time it was done more playfully.
I don’t have many words for Big Star - it was good. It was quiet, intimate, mournful and above all cathartic. I didn’t know if she was singing to herself or to someone she loves, and I didn’t really need to know. It felt very special.
Prior to the release of the album, there were many words about it explicitly being about climate change, and Leader of a New Regime to me, was the only track where this reference was overt. It had an interesting soundscape and an enchanting vocal performance from Lorde. It harboured notions of running out of time: being forced to live out your days, waiting for impending doom, disconnected from the culture. And yes, I do think we need a leader of the new regime, the regime being bigger and stronger than any individual, as a culture, we need complete transformation.
Mood Ring was one of the tracks I really enjoyed from the album rollout. It served as an interesting commentary on new age spirituality and the exploitation of closed practices (particularly Indigenous closed practices) on behalf of the ‘spiritually enlightened’. It overtly addressed the concerns established in ‘The Path’ of deflection and distraction as a means of “healing”. One of my favourite tracks.
The album ended on a high point; Oceanic Feeling is nostalgic, thoughtful and hopeful. It carries the listener through different times in Lorde’s life. It opens a window to her childhood
through fluttery and flowy instrumentation, building an oceanic soundscape, complemented with the chirping of birds and humming of cicadas. Ultimately ‘Oceanic Feeling’ leaves Solar Power with a sense of healing and hope in spite of uncertainty.
Overall, I am satisfied with this album, it has some pretty strong tracks and is conceptually very interesting. However, where Solar Power falters is in the lack of variety in the tracklist at large. I think the loyalty to the tropical theme put Lorde in an awkward position; many of the tracks ending up having similar plucky acoustics, stripped back instrumentation and hushed vocals. I found this put a limit on the production that we usually receive from Lorde. I found my favourite tracks had more dynamic production like ‘The Path’, ‘Mood Ring’ and ‘Oceanic Feeling’. Still, with every listen I feel this album growing on me. I look forward to the day where I will be in a place where I can relate to some of the tracks on a more personal level.
I’ll give it a strong seven to a light eight (out of ten).
A lot of people have opinions on this very controversial album, and frankly, I am avoiding listening to them, as you should with my review as well; I am in no way telling you how to feel. In reality, I am not an expert on music in the slightest, I just am a person who really likes Lorde.
At the end of the day, when we are suffocated by the debates of Lorde growing and changing for the better or worse, I say ‘Let ‘em talk’.