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Thursday, March 30th, 2023  


Solar Power


Aug 26, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

It’s hard to believe that it was over eight years ago when 16-year-old Ella Yelich-O’Connor (aka Lorde) re-tuned the Top 40’s frequency with her slow tempo, finger snapping, practically a cappella anthem, “Royals,” a track that boldly condemned pop music as an exclusive, opulent facade. It’s ironic: one of the best-selling pop songs of all time essentially dunked on every corny, soulless Max Martin-made track that had dominated the pop world over the last few decades. Listen, this New Zealand teenager demanded, for the other 99% of the world: “That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.”

And with this “us vs. them” attitude Lorde quickly became the world’s new “anti-pop star.” To her fans, she was a kindred spirit, a comrade of the austere. To the music industry, she was the second coming, the primer for future whisper-singers such as Billie Eillish and Halsey. And while Lorde’s 2013 debut, Pure Heroine was an adolescent dream filled nightmare—“It feels so scary getting old,” she admits in “Ribs”—Melodrama, the 2017 Jack Antonoff produced follow-up, found Lorde heartbroken at a houseparty. It’s a behemoth of a record, full of sonic surprises and masterful songwriting the peeters between fierce, imbibed confidence—“bet you rue the day you kissed the writer in the dark”—and moments of tender loneliness where the young singer ends up “dancing alone,” and overthinking her lovers’ “punctuation use.”

But unlike these two albums, Solar Power is a static experience. From a string of newsletters, Lorde recounts the last couple years following Melodrama. First, she visited Antarctica mid-pandemic “because I’m a pop star, and the world is extremely unfair,” she says in a Rolling Stone essay. “So, I made a few calls, got several dozen booster shots, and I was off in search of the end of the world.” Self-awareness is the first step to improvement, right? The second step, according to Solar Power, is to go outside and “chill.” So after her life changing five-day expedition to the South Pole, Lorde decided to do just that. She dumped her phone, started smoking weed, luxuriated in the New Zealand countryside with her “girls,” and finally wrote LP3. And how do these actions remedy doom-ridden anxiety, mass consumption and grief? Well, I cannot say.

Yet again, Lorde called upon Antonoff to crystalize her new vision in the studio. But unlike the downtrodden electro-pop production of Melodrama, the singer deviated from this niche and instead aimed to concoct a sonic mixture of ’60s Laurel Canyon euphoria, aside the bright, albeit overlooked, pop optimism of the 2000s (i.e. Sheryl Crow, Natalie Umbruglia). This move is admirable, bold, even, but in practice just delivers monotony. With each song featuring a different combination of acoustic guitar, glittery bass, and patient drums, tracks like “Stoned at the Nail Salon” and “Big Star” are almost indistinguishable, dragging aside watery keys and lacking the animated movement that made fan favorites “Supercut” and “Ribs” such a visceral, unforgettable listening experience.

More than anything, though, Lorde’s best weapon has always been her words. Paired with her awkwardness, silly dancing, and unconventional warble, it was really her poetry that brazenly jabbed and slashed at the mythological celebrity, proving she was a different type of pop star. Solar Power, on the other hand, exists in a vacuum.

On songs “The Path” and “California” Lorde is still rejecting the glamor of fame, but does so without really admitting that she’s part of it. There are “Teen millionaires having nightmares from the camera flash,” which in turn, makes her say “goodbye to all the bottles, all the models.” So, she “leaves” that world to take care of herself—on a private island. In “Leader of a New Regime” she promises to read her magazines and “live out her days.” And although stating some tracks are “satirical“ depositions of culty self-care groups, this is only really obvious on the campy “Mood Ring” (“You can burn sage, and I’ll cleanse the crystals”…”Keep looking at my mood ring/ Tell me how I’m feeling.”).

Wait… wasn’t it co-producer Jack Antonoff that said “Irony is emotional death? It’s hard to be “ironic,” when you’re the subject of the critique, when the joke isn’t really funny, and when you are not offering anything else besides “lol this is bad, right?” All these connections Lorde is trying to make: her strange pastiche imagination of the ’70s, that random spoken word interlude by Robyn about climate change, and the themes of “sun healing,” never fully reach each other. Often, they come off as disingenuous and out of touch more than they read as brilliant, or comical. Whether the album is one big prank, or just one majorly failed experiment, the gist of having the “privilege to ignore” is lost in translation. All you are left with is just a handful of pretty alright songs.

I like to believe Lorde is using Solar Power to invite us into an open mansion left bare and broken. At one point, there was something luxurious and envious about the house—it was the epitome of exclusivity. But when you look inside—and get over the vastness—there is nothing but sorrow and emptiness. Instead of focusing on materials and fame, I believe Lorde is hinting that there is something we all have (for free) that is at risk: our Solar Power, and the natural world around us.

So maybe it is our fault for expecting Lorde to fix our problems, to give us an easy answer. Maybe we’re all just jealous that Lorde grew up and became less overtly cynical, and more white bread millennial. I mean, she starts the album with a warning: “If you’re looking for a savior, that’s not me,” she sings on “The Path.” And that’s fair! But, so is this: if you’re looking for a culture-changing album, an emotional experience, or more than two dance-worthy songs…Solar Power is not it, either. (

Author rating: 5.5/10

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