What the fuck are perfect places, anyway?
Those were the biting last words, the closing lyrics to Lorde’s Melodrama — an album that magnificently captured the blissful madness of being 20 years old: liquor-soaked limes and parties ‘til dawn; identity crises and cataclysmic breakups. That record, released in 2017, was addictively urgent, a work of social malcontent that furthered the disillusion of “Royals,” her world-beating breakthrough smash. Back in 2013, artists like Dave Grohl were welcoming then-16-year-old Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor to “the Nirvana aesthetic.”
But now the alt-pop superstar has receded to her personal paradise, a serene beach where the singer can lay out, read her horoscope, listen to Celine Dion and be left the hell alone — turns out her perfect place had nothing to do with shouldering a sonic rebellion.
Such is the crux of Lorde’s new LP, Solar Power, a reverent and vibey rumination on the allure of nature (“The Path,” “Solar Power,” “Oceanic Feel”), the worrisome climate crisis (“Fallen Fruit” and “Leader of a New Regime”) and her generation’s crystal-studded obsession with spirituality and wellness (“Mood Ring”).
The sound is sparse and regularly retro, drawing heavily from the jangly pop-rock of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, plus ‘60s flower-child folk and psychedelia. Think early Nelly Furtado meets the Mamas and the Papas (and they’re all really into ASMR).
It’s a record for sleepy vacation days and late-summer pool hangs where everyone’s dressed like an extra from Clueless — cool bucket hat, Aiden!
It’s also Lorde’s least vital project by several leagues.
There’s just very little magic here. The album lilts and meanders across 12 tracks, wholly avoiding the incendiary electronic percussion of past releases — a growing trend for the album’s producer Jack Antonoff, whose most recent works with Lana Del Rey, St. Vincent and Clairo (who sings backgrounds on several songs, as does Phoebe Bridgers) are similarly subdued and analog.
Fewer drum machines would be fine if the tunes were particularly engaging, but the album’s general sense of self-satisfaction all but screams no pressure, friends, check this out when you get around to it.
The lax style is no accident, of course. Lorde is a deft songwriter. She knows what she’s doing.
“Now if you’re looking for a savior, well that’s not me,” she sings on the melty surf-psych opener “The Path.” Later, on the similarly balmy closer “Oceanic Feeling,” she notes: “Now the cherry-black lipstick’s gathering dust in a drawer / I don’t need her anymore,” referencing her teen iconography.
Solar Power is bookended by messages aiming to remove the singer from a blazing spotlight she admits has never suited her: “I’ve got hundreds of gowns, I’ve got paintings in frames / And a throat that fills with panic every festival day,” she sings on “The Man With The Axe,” a lovelorn dirge.
Elsewhere, “California” expands on her ambiguity toward Hollywood glitz and trend-chasers: “Goodbye to all the bottles, all the models, bye to the kids in the lines for the new Supreme,” she sings on the shimmery track, which ironically hinges on a hook that’s all Lana, queen of L.A. romantics.
If Lorde’s wish truly is to pull away from superstardom and its expectations, perhaps falling in as a mainstream expat-turned-alternative cult favorite like Robyn — who adds an uncredited spoken-word feature to the end of “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen It All),” portraying a surreal flight attendant — she’s very much on her way.
The sun-soaked lead single “Solar Power” is fine enough for a shore playlist, but no showstopper. And “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” her second single, is decidedly dull in its acoustic musings.
But again, this all may be part of the plan; the dissolution of Lorde, the arena headliner.
Consider the final line of “Oceanic Feeling,” the album’s six-minute finisher, which contemplates an end, on her terms: “On the beach I’m building a pyre, use the wood brought in by the tide / I know you’ll show me how, I’ll know when it’s time / To take off my robes and step into the choir.”