Lorde – ‘Solar Power’ review: a dazzling hat-trick from a master of her craft

The New Zealand star's third album continues her winning streak, as she blazes a trail through the pop landscape with a beautiful paean to nature

On her previous two albums, Lorde made modern classics. ‘Pure Heroine’ surveyed the life of teenagers in 2013, bored and over the typical milestones of what we’re told success is, too busy drifting around the suburbs in friends’ cars to care about the trappings of luxury. Four years later, on ‘Melodrama’, she took us into one night at a house party and the dissolution of a relationship, deftly capturing every angle of a break-up.

For her third album, the Kiwi star is bringing things back to our most basic level – paying tribute to nature and the Earth itself. “The beginning of summer is my favourite time in New Zealand, and this year in particular it feels like a gift,” she shared with fans in a round-robin email last year, before ‘Solar Power’ was announced. The first piece of material she previewed from the record – its title track – captured that feeling perfectly. “I hate the winter / Can’t stand the cold,” the 24-year-old sings. “But when the heat comes/ Something takes a hold.”

Lorde revels in the environment throughout the album, whether she’s suggesting jumping off Bulli Point on her home country’s Lake Taupō on album closer ‘Oceanic Feeling’ or looking to the skies for answers on ‘The Path’. “Now if you’re looking for a saviour – wellm that’s not me,” she tells us on the latter, dark and moody flute melodies floating beneath her. “Let’s hope the sun will show us the path.”

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While ‘Solar Power’ draws its potency from Mother Nature, its creator doesn’t sugarcoat the reality that the natural world, which is so inspiring to her, is in danger of irreversible change. “Wearing SPF 3000 for the ultraviolet rays,” she sings on ‘Leader Of A New Regime’, a stripped-back island escape that makes hermitting yourself away from the chaos of daily life sound like a dream (“Got a trunkful of Simone and Céline and of course my magazines / I’m gonna live out my days”). ‘Fallen Fruit’ takes on the generations that came before us, condemning them, over unsettling folk music, for leaving “us dancing on the fallen fruit”. She asks: “How can I love what I know I am gonna lose?

‘Solar Power’ reflects Lorde pulling from Earth not just lyrically, but musically too. Where ‘Pure Heroine’ and ‘Melodrama’ were filled with euphoric synths and crisp digital sounds, this album peels away all our technological advances and relies on more organic sounds. Even when swathes of mellotron or Wurlitzer coat the tracks, as on ‘Fallen Fruit’ or ‘Secrets From A Girl (Who’s Seen It All)’, they do so in a way that feels like they’ve been pulled from the soil rather than coursing with electricity.

Elsewhere, the record deals with grief – not for the climate especially, but for Lorde’s dog Pearl, whose death in 2019 delayed this release. “‘Member what you thought was grief before you got the call?” Lorde asks herself on ‘Secrets…’ and, later, Swedish alt-pop don Robyn dials into the track for a spoken word verse that tells us: “Welcome to sadness / The temperature is unbearable until you face it.” It’s a gentle, generous song that softly urges Lorde to keep going and get through her pain, nudging her to trust in her instincts and believe in the answers she holds inside herself.

Pearl pops up again on the reverent ‘Big Star’, which pays tribute to the pure, non-judgmental relationship between pet and owner. “I’m a cheater – I lie and I’m shy / But you like to say hello to total strangers,” Lorde murmurs on its first verse, summing up her late dog’s accepting nature, which is at odds with humans’ flaws. “You’re a big star,” she adds fondly. “Want to take your picture / ‘Til I die.”

To counter ‘Solar Power’’s worship of our planet and its creatures, ‘Mood Ring’ offers a tongue-in-cheek look at wellness culture. Dropping references to yoga positions and crystals, the track depicts relying on the titular jewellery to know how you’re doing. “I can’t feel a thing,” Lorde sighs. “I keep looking at my mood ring / Tell me how I’m feeling.” The subtly amusing lyrics also find her noting: “Can’t seem to fix my mood / Today it’s as dark as my roots.”

There are comments on ageing too; on ‘Secrets’, the 24-year-old laments how quickly her last decade has slipped by, and the gorgeous ‘Stoned At The Nail Salon’ sees her meditate on growing up. “All the beautiful girls, they will fade like the roses,” Lorde notes, later adding: “All the music you loved at 16, you’ll grow out of.”

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‘Solar Power’, though, doesn’t feel like a record that will suffer that same fate – this is an album that grows in quiet stature with every listen, new nuggets of wisdom making their way to the surface, peeking through its beautiful instrumentation that weaves a stunning, leafy tapestry. Few artists strike gold on every record they create but, for the third time in a row, Lorde has done it again, crafting yet another world-beater.

Details

Release date: August 20

Record label: Universal

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