What released you from the malaise of the pandemic? For Lorde, it was the vibrancy of summer days, of dancing on the sand and the healing power of bright, exuberant sunshine.
Like a Pagan festival of hope, sunbeams are the golden strands that weave together Lorde’s third album, ‘Solar Power’. Her last record, 2017’s ‘Melodrama‘, was a different hue altogether, all blues and violets which for the synaesthesiac, represented a slightly off-the-rails period in her life.
One of the greatest pop albums of the last decade, ‘Melodrama”s chaotic telling of a breakup via the vehicle of one big party was so steeped in emotion, from the euphoric ‘Green Light’ (an ecstatic moment at her live shows) to the devastating ‘Liability’, it showed an emotional range to the then 20-year-old artist that elevated her above her peers. While they dealt in the now, all literal observations on modernity, Lorde was spinning a web of emotion, deeper and wider-reaching than any could expect. She tugged at buried thoughts in our brains. She prodded at feelings lost, its universal subject matter resonating on a mass scale. Produced by Jack Antonoff of Bleachers (and subsequent collaborations with Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, St Vincent) the two had seemingly found a writing partnership that garnered marvellous results. But the magic was all hers.
It has been four years since that album and there hasn’t been one so affecting since. The world, since then, has changed, Lorde – real name Ella Lani Yelich-O’Connor – remained at home in her native New Zealand, largely off-grid. A smart move, given the state of things and a privileged one.
There was a trip to Antarctica, and an accompanying photobook. But no hint of music. Until June 10, almost Solstice, but not quite, when ‘Solar Power’ the single was released.
“I hate the winter, can’t stand the cold. I tend to cancel all my plans“. The first words we heard from Lorde set the tone for the upcoming record. Written at Cazzie David’s house and influenced by Len’s ‘Steal My Sunshine’ and bizarrely, Robbie Williams’ ‘Rock DJ’, ‘Solar Power’ the single was an ode to the early noughties songs of Lorde’s childhood.
These themes and sounds flow throughout the entire album. She is much more present and grounded than we’ve known her before. On debut, ‘Pure Heroine’ – the record that garnered praise from the likes of Prince and David Bowie – she was a teenager, staring wide-eyed at the life she was about to lead, the fame that was yet to come. On ‘Melodrama’, Lorde was a hot mess, riding the pain and euphoria of new experiences. But on ‘Solar Power’, that’s all behind her. An old-before-her time O’Connor (she’s still only 24), reflects on choices she’s made to slow down, to chill out, to connect with family and the inevitable FOMO that sometimes comes with it.
On ‘California’ she talks of the draw of Laurel Canyon LA, of Carole King and Joni Mitchell, and the realisation that once the bright lights of La-La Land dim, the reality is something more vapid and toxic. “Goodbye to all the bottles, all the models/ Back to the clouds in thе skies in a whole new way“, she sings, leaving behind the city and a barbed relationship. On second single, ‘Stoned At The Nail Salon’, Lorde sings of relationship bliss, “two former hellraisers” who now choose the Sunday papers and a dog walk over late nights and parties.
The hippy ideology that governs ‘Solar Power’ is being deconstructed by O’Connor herself. Conflicted in her own desire to search for answers in nature and the world outside of the web, she’s also self-aware enough to know that an obsession with crystals and yoga still sounds a little silly. She describes bop of a third single, ‘Mood Ring’ as satire, something that caused some critics to lambast her off-the-mark critique of modern wellness culture. But that criticism itself perhaps misses the mark – it’s not a pisstake, but someone wrestling with finding their place in the world, the push and pull between being young, fun-loving and incredibly famous while also recognising that some things are bad for her (social media, other famous-es) – a daily battle that many will relate to.
Album opener, ‘The Path’ fully admits she doesn’t have all the answers. “If you’re looking for a saviour,” she says, a knowing nod to the ‘Our Lorde and saviour’ rhetoric that is often used by her fans, “that’s not me”.
On ‘Dominoes’ she tells the story of a former coked-up party boy who has left it all behind for a life of yoga and gardening – it’s again, not so far from the life she is leading, looking simultaneously at herself through the lens that sees him as somewhat preposterous.
The record uses a lot more guitar, largely acoustic, than previous. The use of melody is exquisite, her vocal range simply stunning. Field recordings of cicadas add to the ambience – it’s all very ‘Midsommar’ before the murders.
Lyrically, there are knowing nods to the past too. ‘Big Star’ has the ‘Liability’-referencing line “Every perfect summer’s gotta take its flight”. On ‘Stoned At The Nail Salon’, she is “waitin’ in your bed wearin’ only my earrings“, in the same room that saw her sing “half of my wardrobe is on your bedroom floor”, in ‘The Louvre’.
We have once again been brought into Lorde’s world and psyche, one that is rightly questioning what makes her happy. There’s a frustration at what’s expected of her and a desire to keep a little something for herself. She’s self-deprecating and introspective, knowing by now, that perfection is a myth. Lorde experienced childhood megastardom long before Billie or Olivia and has made it through the other side, wiser, calmer but still searching for some peace. After the eighteen months we have all had, many of us are looking for the same thing, so whether you find it in crystals or crosswords, parties or pilates, perhaps one thing that unites us all, is the healing power of a little sunshine on our cheeks. And the sound of that sunshine is right here.