As much as you try to consider any album on its own terms, it’s hard to explore Solar Power (Lorde’s third record) in isolation from either of the ones that went before it or the life that has informed it. With the music a marked change from her earlier work, and the lyrics reflective in their focus, it’s hard to shake the sense of an artist stepping away from their past self.
This isn’t a dramatic reinvention. She hasn’t taken a left turn towards death metal or gabba. But while the voice is still familiar and she retains her sharp, analytical eye, there is a clear sense of development in her craft. With drums mostly absent from the record, and the synths and pianos of previous releases largely replaced by softly strummed acoustic guitars and restrained guitar tones, the album sees her reaching towards new places in her songwriting.
Lyrically, the album mostly looks backwards. The majority of the songs reflect on times, places and people from her life, placing distance between the person that she was and the person she is now. For the most part, the songs aren’t bogged down by regret or nostalgia. She doesn’t glamourise the past, but nor does she seem damaged by it. On album opener ‘The Path’, she sings “I hope the sun will show us the path”, an optimistic look towards the future that creates the sense she is shedding baggage and moving on. It’s the first of many songs that deploy the imagery of the sun and the natural world to symbolise the more positive, wiser, mature world she has moved towards.
Even though she explores topics that are often mined for trauma in songs – the pressures of teen fame, damaged relationships, growing up too quickly – there is a calmness and a detachment in the way she explores them that suggests she is feeling ok. Rather than being damaged by her treatment at the hands of a faithless partner on ‘Dominoes’, she offers a sarcastic and mocking riposte to “Mr Start-Again” with his oh so predictable abandonment of women and attempts at self-reinvention.
On song after song, she returns to a series of contrasts: past and present, light and dark, summer and winter. The motifs underpin the whole album, framing it as a journey of acceptance and increasing maturity. The record feels cohesive as a result, with the exception of ‘Leader of a New Regime’, a short and slight number about a dystopian regime. It’s slightly jarring in its out-of-placeness, but doesn’t stick around long enough to have that much of an impact.
In the album’s second half, a couple of songs threaten to break the bubble of positivity and growth. ‘Big Star’ offers a lacerating reflection on her own troubling behaviour within a relationship and the fallout from that. When she sings “I used to love the party, now I’m not alright”, the optimism present elsewhere on the record is absent.‘Mood Ring’ takes aim at the emptiness of the wellness industry and its claims for personal reinvention. Its final plea of “Take me to some kinda place (anywhere).” sounds desperate rather than confident, the singer sounding lost rather than saved.
However, the final song ‘Oceanic Feeling’, sees the return of the natural imagery and her self acceptance, ending the album on a more positive note. Her observation that “I just had to breathe” powerfully conveys her newfound poise and calmness. Meanwhile, the image of her “building a pyre” on the beach is a vivid summation of an artist divesting themselves of their past and taking back control. This is a beautiful, sun-kissed album that manages to balance catchy but restrained melodies with honest and reflective lyrics. All in all, it’s a powerful argument for Lorde being one of the best pop songwriters working today.
Words by Will Collins.