Lorde basks in minimalism on ‘Solar Power’

Solar Power, Universal Music NZ

So it looks like Lorde discovered psychedelics and watched Midsommar during quarantine – like a lot. 

After another now expected lengthy hiatus, Lorde returns to the pop field with her third studio album, Solar Power. An encore of Melodrama, the record is again co-produced with pop music mainstay Jack Antonoff. Sunny, ruminative, and decidedly more reserved than her previous projects, the album will quickly become the artist’s most divisive collection to date.

The ruminative project showcases a grown Lorde reflecting on what matters most to her. Its a deconstruction of the celebrity from the perspective of one of the most singular artists of this generation.

The first inklings of these themes are introduced quickly on opener “The Path.”

“Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash. Now I’m alone on a windswept island,” she recaps. The narrative immediately takes shape, with a less linear, more sporadically introspective tracklist revealing to fans where Lorde has been and what she’s been up to.

Throughout the LP, Lorde finds peace in reducing her life to the details, experiences, and values that matter most to her. What’s started on “The Path” continues in the form of rejecting excess on “California.” On “Big Star,” she laments the loss of her beloved dog Pearl on “Big Star.” With “Man with the Axe,” Lorde celebrates a beautifully complicated love.

The songwriter spends a large portion of the record denying the glitz that was the excess that has surrounded much of her tumultuous young adult life. Funnily enough, the project can easily be seen as a matured expansion of the perspective Lorde teased on her breakthrough hit “Royals” back in 2013. Having ironically achieved the materialistic draws of A-list fame she poked at on the single, Lorde reverts to the grounded world she once knew – inherently maintaining the perspectives she presented on “Royals.”

Where themes and ideas continue on from her first two albums, Lorde adopts a separate style of songwriting for Solar Power. The satire is thinly veiled, the metaphors and intentions more obvious. It sonically mimics the epiphanies and discoveries she’s made over the four years since Melodrama crowded the dance floors and festival lawns for the better part of 2017.

Does it make for the best music of her career? Maybe not; but, is it any less of an artistic statement than Melodrama or Pure Heroine? Not at all.

Solar Power, while less inventive in the sense that Lorde draws more heavily from previously curated songs, remains a compelling listen. It showcases a heavy roster of heroes that come from the psychedelic soaked sounds of the late 60s and early 70s. She engages in Rolling Stone drag on “Oceanic Feeling,” peaks at remnants of Pink Floyd on “The Path” and “Fallen Fruit,” and even takes inspiration from The Beatles on “California.”

Where there are many nods to the artists of the era Lorde draws the album’s aesthetics from, Solar Power is an album the artist made for herself and herself only. In doing so, does she alienate a chunk of her massive audience? Maybe, but that’s not something as valuable as that which she cherishes most.

Solar Power, if nothing else, is a celebration of life’s simplicities and a reminder to take a step back to enjoy the riches of those blessed enough to live healthy lives. To stop resetting the clock and adopting routines for the sake of cultural pressures, and instead to strip the excess and find what matters most.

These ideas may come across to some as overprivileged, and deservedly so, but in criticism of this album lives Lorde’s mass intention with the project. She shouldn’t be looked at like the pop goddess and unattainable hero she’s been made out to be. Instead, Lorde, or Ella Yelich-O’Connor, is human after all – a creative leaning poet with a flair for theatrics.

So while Solar Power may be Lorde’s least imaginative and industry rattling project, its perhaps her most confidently self assured statement yet.

Olivia Rodrigo passes driver’s test, goes viral

drivers license, Olivia Rodrigo

Is there a new Taylor Swift in town?

Many have come and gone in music attempting to replicate the profoundly detailed specificity that comes from a Taylor Swift song. Though many have come and gone with this mentality, one singer has made her mark. Coming from one of the flagship Disney+ series, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, breakout star Olivia Rodrigo has gone viral with her debut solo single, “drivers license.”

The 17 year-old songwriting pop hopeful releases the track fresh off her new deal with Interscope. In the vein of Swift, the track details confessional lyricism over a chamber of guitars and bedroom pop electronica. Its a simple, focused lament of losing one’s first love. Also in the vein of Swift is its instant media coverage appeal. Allegedly crooning to her co-star and ex, Joshua Bassett, Rodrigo gives fans of the series and newcomers have their latest scandal to escape into in an era when the news has never felt more chaotic or depressing.

Rodrigo cleverly utilizes a specific memory, a point in time when hope flooded the rooms of conversations with her partner. Teaching her to drive, her ex is now nowhere to be found when the singer earns her license. Left to her own devices, she solemnly drives through his street and the encompassing suburbs. A little bit “White Horse” a little bit “Green Light,” the single hits.

What made “drivers license” viral wasn’t necessarily its quality. It’s strong singer-songwriter pop, but the viral nature of its continued success is credited to a few things bigger than the track itself.

In a new year continuing to be characterized by grief, solitude and nostalgia, listeners are flocking to the melancholy. Like SZA’s latest single, “Good Days,” Rodrigo’s tune capitalizes on today’s collective consciousness. Additionally, the general public’s continued reliance on technology, namely the social media smash hit TikTok, has boosted the reach of the single and its mass resonance.

Finally, on top of it all, the themes of the song actually give listeners a socially distant activity to partake in during this prolonged quarantine. They can now shout scream the song and its sticky bridge and film themselves while doing so. Thus, the cyclical trend will flood the gates of TikTok until it exhausts itself.

More interesting, though, will be how Rodrigo capitalizes on this surprise and abrupt success. All eyes will be watching as this rising talent continues her upward trajectory into the digital age of pop music.


Sam Smith finds liberation in convention

Love Goes, Capitol

“I wanna be wild and young, and not be afraid to lose,” Sam Smith coos in the opening line of their long reworked third studio album Love Goes. The dance pop record, originally titled To Die For, is essentially a breakup album explored through the theme of rebirth and re-acclamating with oneself.

Like Lorde’s Melodrama and Taylor Swift’s Red before it, the album finds enlightenment in heartbreak. The biggest issue with the project isn’t that its themes are familiar, it’s that Smith’s self actualization comes in the form of their weakest artistry to date. The bulk of the record feels so commonplace it only beckons listeners to reassemble with Smith’s past work. With each wave, it’s pulled in a new sonic direction, none of which stick the landing enough to dazzle.

Opening with “Youth,” Love Goes has a clear narrative of love lost. Smith’s heartbreak is well worn in the intro as they yearn for the next phase of their life. Before they find it, they succumb to memories with bitter hindsight on standout “Diamonds” and “Another One.” Their partner, shallow and quick to move on, has done a number on the pop crooner.

The remaining story of the album is Smith’s crawl back to themself, gluing their soul back together to new sounds. Similar to Lorde’s “Green Light,” they find solace on the dance floor and in the forms of new bodies and friends. If only this profound realization was reflected in a stronger, more unified production.

The majority of the songs on Love Goes play it extremely safe. On “So Serious,” Smith reflects on their lack of freedom, taking things overly personal. It’s set to a backdrop of snaps and claps that, if played at a low volume, may lay listeners to sleep. Instantly forgettable, the track lacks substance. Similar is the often whispered vocal of “Breaking Hearts.” Another song of losing love and the one sided aftermath Smith experiences, it too lacks conviction and singularity.

Perhaps most disappointing is the Labrinth assisted title track. In a year when Labrinth simply never misses (listen to the award winning Euphoria score immediately), the single is exactly that. What is meant to be the cathartic climax of a once in a lifetime love, it leaves listeners with little more than a shrug.

There are moments of sparkle within the album. One of the strongest moments comes in “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else).” The track is one of the few actually convincing moments of Smiths newly established sound. Applying the popular UK sound found in house pop like Calvin Harris’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” the song effectively supports its confident lyricism.

Unsurprisingly, Smith shines brightest when they slow down the party with the ballad “For The Lover That I Lost.” It’s a rare glimpse of the artist fans have come to love over the years. Their voice is truly once in a generation, and it couldn’t be more apparent than on this gem of a deep cut.

At 11 tracks, the standard edition of the album closes with “Kids Again.” A Troye Sivan esque track reveals a still hurt, but more matured Smith. Its another glimpse of the sound they were going for in constructing the project.

The biggest flaw of the record is its directionless structure. Where Taylor Swift’s Red lightsped through genres through the lens of the emotional process, Love Goes fails to justify its sonic incoherence. Some of the strongest statements lay in the deluxe tracks released across the last year and a half, namely “Dancing With a Stranger” and “To Die For.”

If nothing more, Love Goes shows an artist willing and committed to evolving. Whatever’s next, Smith has the potential to grow into whatever they want to become next.