Time and nature are healing, and Lorde’s heavily-anticipated third studio album proves just that. Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor, better known under her aristocratic stage name, officially burst back onto the music scene after over four years of radio silence. For months, fans only had sporadic email updates and a book documenting her 2019 Antarctic expedition to look forward to. Until now.
Lyrically, Lorde’s work is as good as it’s ever been. One-line zingers and long, prose-like realizations alike define an album that proves itself intensely relatable once again. Although the release of Solar Power has admittedly split critics, warranting lower average reviews than “Pure Heroine” or “Melodrama,” the lyrical revelations about nature, beauty and power are too stunning to dismiss.
That being said, the melodies are certainly repetitive and monotonous at times. Jack Antonoff’s dreamy, echoing instrumentals make their immediate appearance in the first track, “The Path.” Lorde acknowledges her long disappearances between albums and asks her fans to not think of her as a god-like figure, an interesting callback to her first radio hit, “Royals.” From there, it’s a slow jog into the track that started it all — “Solar Power.”
Although it’s drawn comparisons to a Claritin commercial, among other things, “Solar Power” is undeniably a summer anthem. Hazy backup vocals from indie queens such as Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo pull the whole track together, and the vibrant colors embedded within the song — peach, acid green, aquamarine — only contribute to the lively spirit of the lead single.
“California” slows things down a bit, drawing upon more of Lorde’s experiences in the harsh limelight at a mere 16 years old. The urge to leave California is nothing new, as the pandemic has prompted long-time residents to move away from the Golden State. However, Lorde lays it out for us in plain, repetitive language: “Goodbye to all the bottles, all the models / Bye to the kids in the lines for the new Supreme / Don’t want that California love.”
The conclusion of “California” brings light electric guitar melodies that lead perfectly into her second single, “Stoned at the Nail Salon.” Although the track is a little too reminiscent of “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” another Jack Antonoff-produced record performed by Lana Del Rey, this contemplative number is a lovely, low-key ballad. Lorde reminds us that “it’s time to cool it down, wherever that leads.”
Plenty of artists have attempted — successfully or unsuccessfully — to produce painfully self-aware tracks about the inevitable doom that climate change brings: Greta Thunburg’s essay for The 1975’s “Notes on a Conditional Form,” for example. Although these songs often miss the mark, landing in the realm of performative activism, Lorde took a stab at it in “Fallen Fruit,” a simple, angelic song about the dismal state of our environment. It makes more sense for Lorde, a born-and-bred Kiwi, but the song falls a little flat as the only environmentally-minded track of the album.
Lorde’s 2013 sleeper hit “Ribs” walked so “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)” could run. A clear throwback to her earlier albums, this track is incredibly relatable and heartbreaking, especially to pandemic-era college students. Seemingly a message to her 15-year-old self, the spoken outro from Swedish pop artist Robyn hit hard at the end of another angelic song. The lines “Your emotional baggage can be picked up at carousel number two / Please be careful so it doesn’t fall onto someone you love” were incredibly heartbreaking in the context of such a nostalgic song.
Nearly halfway through the album, it’s clear that the sound is a little repetitive. The soft guitars and breathy melodies have run their course up until this point, and therein lies the problem that most critics — and even some superfans — have with “Solar Power.” However, let’s remind ourselves that Lorde took this album as an opportunity to slow down and unplug. Sure, it isn’t as nostalgic as “Pure Heroine” or as electric as “Melodrama,” but there’s something to be said about the lasting power of her songwriting, which is just as apparent on this album as her previous two.
No track proves this better than “The Man with the Axe,” a slow love song you can’t help but imagine waltzing along to. The lyrics are stuffed to the brim with images of a long-lasting love, a little bittersweet but also hopeful in the face of a pandemic that has forced loved ones together in ways unimaginable. “Dominoes,” on the other hand, is a sharp near-diss track about a flighty man, running through phases of life — and women — like there’s no tomorrow.
“Big Star” brings the listener right back down to earth with an absolutely heartbreaking ballad about Lorde’s dog, Pearl, who unfortunately passed away in late 2019. Written before the dog’s death, the song runs every pet owner through an emotion so real it nearly feels tangible — transformative, overtaking love for our furry companions.
The dreamy, dystopian interlude “Leader of a New Regime” leads straight into “Mood Ring,” Lorde’s third single that centers around spirituality. Manifestation, crystals and the like are heavily satirized in this track — although plenty of women have turned to astrology and spirituality in our current era of confusion and disarray thanks to the pandemic, Lorde acknowledges her “general realisation that many wellness practises adopted by white women have rough consequences for indigenous peoples.”
On “Oceanic Feeling,” the album’s final track, Lorde contemplates her life and the people she loves in a song that, musically, finishes the album just as it began. Even the most hardcore fans can’t deny that the floaty, light electric guitar melodies and subdued background vocals get a little tiring after 12 tracks. But, as Lorde reminds us in “Oceanic Feeling,” she’s “got this power” — the power to slow down and turn away from the eclectic pop era that defined her music for so long.