Before we begin, let us clarify one thing: we may not all agree upon whether Solar Power is any good, but everybody can at the very least concede that Melodrama was practically impossible to top. Lorde’s extremely highly anticipated new release after a 4-year sabbatical was met with ambivalent reviews, both from those who appear unable to move away from the artistic nostalgia of her first two albums, and those who condemn the pretentiousness of such a scathing criticism of the world she has belonged to since her teenage years. There is an undeniable lightness about the new album as the singer is no longer plagued by the melancholy of growing out of her young identity – instead, it feels as if peace has been achieved. This led me to question whether there are layers to Solar Power like the ones found within the tracks of Lorde’s first two albums, so I decided to delve in deeper in order to find them.
In the first verse of the opening track, The Path, we can single out a few discernible themes that continue through the album, consisting of reflections upon fame, upon identity and upon nature – the latter of which is an overarching motif found somewhere within almost every line. In the beginning, the moody introduction lays the foundation for an all-too-familiar gloom, almost echoing Mad World in sentiment and sound. However, the transition from observation from the inside to the outside of celebrity as she retreats to her ‘windswept island’ alone gives way to a liberation from misery and a movement towards happiness. Lorde’s message is established – only the natural world provides true solace from the toxicity of stardom, to which she has been subjected for as long as anyone can remember. She condemns the idolisation and glorification of our heroes, insisting that if we’re searching for an icon, we should not be looking to her for salvation. This is the beginning of a process of grounding that evolves with each track, tearing down the pedestal that is so often constructed for mega pop stars to mount as they come and go.
This disillusionment and a quest for serenity dominates Solar Power, the eponymous lead single, and California, as Lorde ironically hails herself a ‘prettier Jesus,’ with her listeners her natural disciples. She waves goodbye to her old way of living, albeit briefly, preferring to flee the ‘poison arrows’ the Golden State has tossed towards her in favour of the bliss of her native New Zealand and the landscapes it offers. My personal favourite on the album, California finishes with the hypnotising hook ‘It’s just a dream,’ transitioning into ‘I wanna wake up,’ which contrasts the falsehood of the industry with the reality of Lorde’s desperation to escape.
Along the same vein come Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All), Mood Ring and Oceanic Feeling, revelling in the wonders of the natural world without a care for modern innovation or technology. Lorde reassures her younger self, in the midst of the glamour and drama, that she will indeed find a renewed sense of purpose and comfort in a time at which reconciliation with nature feels most possible. This is evident also by the ethereal vocals, layering harmonies to instil the songs with a sense of the sublime. At times, we feel like the evasiveness is juxtaposed with the total mundanity of selected lyrical content, namely within ‘The Man with the Axe,’ ‘Big Star’ (written for Lorde’s beloved and deceased pup Pearl) and ‘Dominoes,’ which focus instead on her personal experience with intimacy and love within the hostile climate that fame engenders.
A latter-day Romantic, Lorde creates a pastiche of more modern ideas surrounding climate change and the necessity for action. Fallen Fruit doubles up as an ominous kind of eulogy for those chewed up and spat out by celebrity, as well as a solemn, minimalistic acoustic ballad alerting listeners to imminent apocalypse. The track, written at dizzy heights during a long-haul flight and described by Lorde herself as ‘unhinged,’ could even be said to resemble her contribution to the The Hunger Games soundtrack from years past, itself set in a dystopia which feels ever closer to our own mad world. She is increasingly explicit in her demands for change in the interlude, ‘Leader of a New Regime,’ eerily soft but lyrically unnerving, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of those who listen without remorse.
Most of the album is Lorde screaming for a break, highlighting the dangers of overactivity and the necessity of rest. She transcends her teenage trauma, recognising its utility in a modern economy, to reach a new level of stasis with the help of the world around her and to encourage those who hear her album to do the same. I read on Twitter that Solar Power concludes a trilogy, and I would agree – Pure Heroine is the creating, Melodrama the hurting and her recent release the healing. What I am less inclined to align myself with is the declaration that Lorde makes in Stoned at the Nail Salon – that ‘all the music you loved at sixteen you’ll grow out of’ – because I have no plans to abandon her old discography.