In a world full of pop facsimiles, Lorde has emerged older, wiser, more confident and entirely carefree. Chris Schulz reviews her banger-free new album, Solar Power. Painting by Henrietta Harris.
Lorde doesn’t care about your expectations. She isn’t interested in hearing your demands. The 24-year-old doesn’t give a flying fuck about the box you put her in. “Now if you’re looking for a saviour / Well that’s not me,” sings the Devonport-born international pop sensation in Solar Power’s first chorus. In other words, Lorde’s moved on. You want ‘Royals’? You’ve already got it. You should probably move on too.
That much is clear from her banger-free third album that’s less of a throat clearer and more of a complete sweep of the table-top. There are no trap drums, Lorde’s trademarked layered vocal hooks have gone AWOL, and there are zero nods to current commercial pop trends. That title track and sun-drenched first single is as rowdy as things get. Lil Uzi Vert will not be jumping on the remix of ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon’. She’s barely recognisable as the witchy woman who once sang about making out on a tennis court.
Instead, Solar Power is a time capsule throwing back to simpler times. It paints a polaroid picture of sun dresses and watermelon slices by the pool. It’s full of lush, hushed vocals, most of which are whispered and cooed, beautifully. “I just hope the sun will show us the path,” Lorde hums gently on opener ‘The Path’, a song containing saxophone, flute and a Wurlitzer electric piano. It lays down paving stones for what is a collection of – excuse the use of that horrible word – vibes.
Often, Solar Power doesn’t even sound like the Lorde we’ve come to know and love. The jaded lyrics of ‘California’ – “I don’t miss the poison arrows aimed directly at my head” – come with a falsetto chorus unlike anything she’s done before. “I can’t feel a thing / I keep looking at my mood ring,” she coos on ‘Mood Ring’, a skittery exercise in restraint. ‘Big Star’, a grungy ballad, features zero drums. Neither does ‘Leader of a New Regime’. Some songs are so sparse that ‘fresh air’ could be listed as an instrument.
In an era beholden to memes, hot takes and viral TikTok hits, Solar Power is a refreshing reset. This is no singles album. Unlike the visceral pop thrills of Pure Heroine or Melodrama, it takes multiple listens to sink in, to get to know its layered mysteries, to relax into its woozy wavelength. It’s designed to be listened to in its entirety while lying on a picnic blanket, a summer wave washing over you. Do that and things start to catch. They take time, but moments that will become festival favourites – the Fleet Foxes feels of ‘Fallen Fruit’, the downbeat dramas of ‘Mood Ring’ – start to shine.
So do her lyrics. I’m happy to report Lorde remains among the most canny writers of pop music around. After a week with Solar Power, I’m still unpacking my favourite moments. There are too many to count. Many are about letting Lorde’s younger shadows evaporate. “The cherry-black lipstick’s gathering dust in a drawer / I don’t need her anymore,” she sings at one point. “Couldn’t wait to turn fifteen, then you just go *swooosh*” she sings at another. The wishbone on the windowsill that opens ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon’ kills me every time.
Yet, she saves the best for last. ‘Oceanic Feeling’, a folksy ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’-style shapeshifter full of intricately linked parts, will dominate the Lorde discourse in the weeks to come. It includes multi-suite harmonies, a brief rap, a six-string bass, Marlon Williams and chirping cicadas on backing vocals, and extremely personal lyrics: “If I have a daughter / Will she have my waist? / Or my widow’s peak?” It’s a stunner, a song that crams all of Lorde’s different moods into one whole watermelon. “It’s one of my favourite songs that I think I’ve ever written,” she says among the five pages of notes supplied to reviewers. It shows.
Lorde knows Solar Power is a discombobulating experience, especially for fans who’ve been with her since that first EP, released when she was just 14. To ease that transition, she invites Robyn to join her pool party exactly halfway through the album. The Swedish pop sensation provides a spoken word interlude, playing a kooky airline hostess oozing effortless cool. “Thanks for flying with Strange Airlines / I will be your tour guide today,” she says, sweetly. “Your emotional baggage can be picked up at carousel number two/ Please be careful so it doesn’t fall on someone you love.”
It’s a near perfect moment, a singer’s version of a chef sprinkling foraged flowers over their signature dish. It’s also a sign that Lorde knows Solar Power isn’t going to land like ‘Green Light’. There will be turbulence. She’ll make you answer the question: What do you want from her? “You need someone to take your pain for you? Well, that’s not me,” she warns, again, at the start.
She may be carefree, but she isn’t careless, and Solar Power contains a defiant streak. It’s a statement: Lorde’s on her own flight path, one that’s infinitely more interesting than spitting out Melodrama 2.0. “Won’t take the call if it’s the label or the radio,” she sings at one point. They may stop calling after this. But take Robyn’s advice: you should buckle up if you want to enjoy the ride. The views – succinctly described by Robyn as “sunrise by euphoria mixed with existential vertigo” – are worth it.
Recorded in 2017, Behind the Melodrama features Lorde talking to Henry Oliver for The Spinoff about the lyrics, songwriting and production of every song on her album Melodrama. Listen below, or wherever you get your podcasts.