Lorde has always been an artist of specifics. Mentions of orange juice and lies about liking the beach have made her music intimate and personal. Despite this, her music has always seemingly had a universal appeal, whether it was the rebel youth of Pure Heroine or blistering heartache of Melodrama. Solar Power does not have that.
While Melodrama was a critical homerun, this effort has not had quite the same fortune. When you hear it, it is easy to see why. Solar Power is her first record where that universality has been lost, overcome by the divide between generations and the specific experience of those lost between. Lorde captures that lost, almost directionless feeling of being caught between two generations with such extreme differences.
Solar Power, with its natural aesthetic and glowing lead single about enjoying the sun, may seem like a happy upturn from Melodrama’s dark heartache, but that is not the case. Sonically, the record drifts far from the huge ominous pop sound of Melodrama, grounding the record’s sound in a beachy, 70s soft rock vibe that is so understated it is almost under produced. The sound is alarmingly intimate, to the point that is almost uncomfortable, as if Lorde herself is nearby.
While Melodrama felt full of purpose, determined to unload the pain of a break-up, Solar Power is deliberately purposeless. The sound compliments its themes. Filtered through the perspective of a pop star, Solar Power ideals with that lost and directionless so many 20-somethings have found themselves caught up in as “the best years of their life” get swallowed up by the effects of late-stage capitalism, climate change and a global pandemic. Though she may not be our “saviour”, she assures us that “we are all broken and sad.” Despite her fame, Lorde assures us that she is right there with us. To some, that may seem pretentious. To those of her generation, it is comforting.
Like her generation, Solar Power deals in contractions and irony. On ‘California’, she laments the life of the rich and famous (“Goodbye to all the bottles, all the models”), and then immediately questions if she has made the right decision on ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon’ (“I love this life that I have/but I wonder sometimes what I’m missing”). On ‘Mood Ring’, she pokes fun at the increasing amount of people turning to spirituality to cope and the resulting damage it has on the cultures where these practices originated. It’s a moment of ironic reflection, caught between the desire to cling to any comfort you can and the desire to admit that what you’re doing may be damaging.
The record also wrestles with growing up, and the loss of youth, a feeling so pristinely highlighted by the rocky transition into to adult that many in their early 20s are experiencing in the context of a pandemic. “Couldn’t wait to turn fifteen/then you blink and it’s been ten years”, she sings on ‘Secrets of a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)’; “I thought I was a genius/but now I’m twenty two”, she croons on ‘The Man with the Axe’.
Elsewhere, Lorde dives into grief. ‘Fallen Fruit’ deals with the fallout of the climate and the depressing future that the world is headed toward. She addresses previous generations whose dreams were “far too big” and have doomed us to “disappear in the cover of the rain”. “The album’s truest highlight comes with ‘Big Star’, a gorgeous ode to Lorde’s late dog Pearl, where she expresses her adoration for her pet. The song is so intimate it feels almost intrusive, but something so wonderfully relatable. It’s a true gut-punch, a true example of something so simple being so immensely profound.
Lorde’s Solar Power is a very different sound for an artist who has found such success with big pop numbers. It’s hard to understand why she would choose to make such a simple record, unless you’re a part of the generation that she represents. While Lorde may have lost her universal appeal, Solar Power very clearly defines her as the voice of her generation. And what a voice it is.
Featured Image: Universal Music Group