Review and Analysis by Alexandra Rosbotham – Arts and Music Editor
For Lorde, following up on her Grammy Award Album of the Year nominated Melodrama, and moody cult favourite Pure Heroine, her third album was always going to prove to be a massive task with a lot to live up to. With it being almost a month since the release of Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s third LP Solar Power, it’s clear that this is her most divisive release to date. Surprisingly, we see her sound taking a folk/psychedelic pop diversion from her radio friendly and synth heavy electropop past. With the dust now settling on Solar Power giving the record a chance to sink in (and be experienced in its intended weather during one of NI’s last fleeting heatwaves of the year), O’Connor’s third studio album comes into its own. Solar Power is distinctly Lorde, however this time more mature, self-assured and almost intentionally uncommercial, compared to the huge success of her preceding records.
At first glance, this record almost appears sunny dispositioned, with the 24 year old previously describing Solar Power as her “sun worship album”, something which is evident throughout, but glaringly so in the opening track The Path. A golden aura surrounds the album and it’s stripped back and minimalistic production compared to previous efforts. However this is Lorde; and although upbeat and cheery on the surface; the cynicism of Pure Heroine is never too far from reach! She sings about modern wellness culture on Mood Ring, a satirical look at the appropriation of practices by westerners desperate for any sort of remedy to their spiritual or emotional problems; “Ladies begin your sun salutations / You can burn sage and I’ll cleanse the crystals / Let’s fly somewhere Eastern, they’ll have what I need”. In a Genius interview, Lorde mentioned she wanted to “speak to the sadness a lot of people feel in our modern world”, and this fits neatly not only within the satirical nature of this song, but also on a wider, more sombre perspective she offers throughout the album. Although not explicit in nature, themes of climate change crop up a number of times through the album’s 43 minute run time, falling under the darker cuts throughout the listen. Fallen Fruit is one of these moments; where she considers the soon to be irreparable damage done by past generations, “You’ll leave us dancing on the fallen fruit / How can I love what I know I’m going to lose?”. Similarly on Leader of a New Regime she stresses the need of a new approach before we soon pass the point of no return, “Wearing SPF 3000 for the ultraviolet rays / Won’t somebody, anybody be the leader of the new regime?”.
Although many have chalked Solar Power up to be no more than an uninspired album from yet another wallowing pop star lacking self-awareness, I feel this is an unfair summary. Solar Power is definitely an album that requires a bit more attention upon first listen, and I believe that fans and listeners who are acquainted with her previous albums will find that it couldn’t be more self-aware. Regarding the topic of the celebrity lifestyle, Lorde shows just how much she’s matured in all aspects of the record. She comments on the unending and unconditional adoration she receives from fans and the pressures of becoming a role model purely because of her fame; “if you’re looking for a saviour, that’s not me”. She goes on to turn her back on her previous party girl and celebrity tendencies she sang about on her sophomore album in California. This marks a massive change in attitude from her younger self, who sang about all the riches of fame she never considered to be achievable on her first ever hit, “Royals”.
Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All), which is at the halfway point of the album’s track listing is exemplary in showcasing the maturity that this album is packed full of and also comes as a special moment on the record for many big fans of hers (including myself). On Spotify Storyline, Ella revealed she had taken two chords from the fan favourite Ribs featured on her debut Pure Heroine and reversed them to be used on Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All). Ribs is melancholic, moody and oozes an anxiety and apprehension felt by teenagers all over the world about growing up and getting older. On Secrets from a Girl… Lorde croons over a upbeat melody in reply to herself eight years previous, imparting the wisdom she gained with time and to let her know that it’s all going to be ok; “Everybody wants the best for you / but you gotta want it for yourself, my love”.
From a personal perspective, Lorde is an artist I’ve followed closely since the release of her 2013 debut Pure Heroine, and as I grew up and approached the various stages of teenage life, Lorde was putting those experiences and feelings being felt by many to music. From the early teenager’s angst, pessimism and anxiety of what the future has in store on Pure Heroine, to the older teenager’s party days and experiencing the intensity of a first heartbreak on Melodrama. Solar Power feels as if this is Lorde letting us know she’s grown up, now offering us her guidance and lived experience in navigating your early 20’s through her music as she has done before.
Although it’s a swift and slightly jarring change in direction for Lorde on Solar Power from what she has previously mastered, she hasn’t been dubbed “the future of music” by David Bowie and “the voice of her generation” for nothing. With this 60’s/70’s inspired sun worshipper album rounding off her trilogy of LPs to date, I suggest leaving what you’ve read in the reviews at the door. However, what you can expect from Solar Power much like Melodrama, is Jack Antonoff’s sensational production, heavenly harmonies and a whole lot of wisdom and lyrics worth listening and paying attention to – that is if you’re willing to give it a chance.