Few people make music like Lorde does. Leaving significant gaps between records, her releases have come to punctuate the ends of eras, her life mirroring that of her fans. Breaking out at 16, 'Pure Heroine' welcomed in our angst with its pastel grunge sheen. Early days at uni sunk and soared between the colours of 'Melodrama'. And now here we are as adults, realising we’re free to do as we please, unlearning the toxicity of earlier lessons, recovered from the big heartbreaks of young love, and on 'Solar Power', Lorde soundtracks a communal effort towards optimism.
2013 was a hard year. 'Pure Heroine' provided anthems to be played in the background of Tumblr scroll sessions, at a time when toxic images were left uncensored, depression was glamorised and we all wore deep purple lipstick. Lorde became the face of it all, pale and perfectly sombre – a fact she seems keenly aware of on this new release.
Returning with the uber-cheerful single 'Solar Power', Lorde signalled in a different era of joy in her music, a decision that now seems active on a record that not only deals with the anxiety and fun of your mid-20s, but deals clearly and confrontationally with Lorde’s position and responsibility in fame.
While her previous albums were heralded and held close as deeply relatable works, 'Solar Power' is an album about Lorde being Lorde, unafraid to be clear about the fact that she no longer has a life quite like her fans, and she can’t be their guide.
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Laying it all out in the first track, 'The Path' guides us into this new era with a clear sign post; "If you’re looking for a saviour, that’s not me". Confronting her role in the lives of her fan, the slow build into a drum filled climax sonically walks listeners from angst into the light, no longer sinking into sadness with listeners but guiding them out. Singing, "Let’s hope the sun will show us the path", Lorde’s intentions are beautifully shown, like an active attempt to raise vibrations, drink more water, get more sun. After years away, wandering around Antarctica or wherever she’s been, Lorde’s back but this time she wants us to be in therapy, have our meds sorted out and come dance with her, reunited to find optimism after a youth of angst.
In this way, 'Solar Power' is her new hymn for fans. In the context of the albums more psychedelic sounds, with clear 60s and 70s references from The Door-esque synths to Mama And Papas harmonies, the single is reignited with a sense of indoctrination. As a prettier Jesus, Lorde tries her had in the role of a literal leader for her cult fan base as the hot-girl-summer rhythm forces you to dance.
But this isn’t a fully sun-soaked album. Instead, it’s sun-stroked – it’s bright and hazy as her prior introspection now glows without it being a false neon. Like the musical equivalent of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, slowing the sinister side of the rose-tinted era, Lorde’s 60s Laurel Canyon inspired sounds are uniquely grounded with a darker side. As Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo come together to create transcendent harmonies, Lorde counters is by taking her lyrics darker. When her voice flips into velvety sweetness, Jack Antonoff’s instrumentals come in with a minor twist, using darkness sparingly and subtly to pull clouds in and out of 'Solar Power’s sunny skies. Still full of the anxiety-exposing lyrics and moments of angst that fans flock to, but Lorde simply refuses to sit there anymore.
Borrowing from the lives and sounds of the female pop stars that came before her, she references a whole linage from Mama Cass’ boldness through to Britney’s unashamed twee-ness as 'Secrets From A Girl (Who’s Seen It All)' offers Lorde’s version of 'I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman'. Deeply influenced by a long history of hyper-famous female musicians, there’s a part of 'Solar Power' that feels uniquely made for other celebrities.
If 'Solar Power' is a new hymn for fans, 'Fallen Fruit' is one for her famous friends. Somewhere between a prayer and a eulogy, the stripped harmony-heavy sounds more like a Baez protest song or a wartime anthem than a Lorde track. Its haunting lyrics look directly at fame, forcing the listener to become at outsider, not letting them relate for a moment as Lorde joins the chorus of those that came before her, considering the giants shoulders she stands on, and the way fame’s conflicts grinds them all down.
Weaving between island escapism and her familiar deep intro and retrospection, both sides seem tethered by a very meta thread of her own fame and position of a celebrity. In this eagerly anticipated release, Lorde seems to tackle being a person that people anticipate, being a person that has sound tracked so much sadness, being a person that people look to for messianic insights into decades of their life. 'Solar Power' feels like her manifesto for a more positive next stage, setting an intention for brighter days for herself and her fans. Still with moments of melancholy, it doesn’t promise 24/7 sunny skies in the way that even the strongest affirmations rarely stick all the time.
Instead, 'Solar Power' says “I can’t be your leader in sadness forever. Join me in the sun, please.” Deeply cohesive, conceptual and considered. Controlled while still being unexpected. Comforting within confines, placing a new level of distance and boundaries between her personal life and her fans as she focusses on feelings over stories. Solar Power is a new era for Lorde, matured as she turns her consideration outwards towards her role in fan’s lives, while still leaving space for her signature confessional lyrics.
Opening the gates to a brighter place, Lorde beckons her listeners to join her in intentional optimism as our growing pains finally subsided. Taking on a healthier role as a figure that’s not perfect but no longer an emotional anchor, on 'Secrets From A Girl', Robyn summarises Lorde’s new role better than I ever could – "Welcome to Sadness … I’m just gonna show you in, and you can stay as long as you need to get familiar with the feeling, And then when you’re ready, I’ll be outside, and we can go look at the sunrise by euphoria mixed with existential vertigo? … Cool."
Words: Lucy Harbron
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