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.