After a long hiatus, singer-songwriter Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) has returned to the music scene with her highly anticipated third studio album, “Solar Power.” Across the album’s 12 songs, Lorde shares discoveries about life in an exuberant and bittersweet work that at times seems underdeveloped.
“Solar Power” diverges both sonically and thematically from Lorde’s previous albums, 2013’s “Pure Heroine” and 2017’s “Melodrama.” Her first two albums featured heavy production coupled with moody synths and catchy hooks that came to epitomize modern pop. “Solar Power” takes a different direction, employing acoustic guitar and off-kilter melodies to evoke the ’70s groove of Laurel Canyon bands like The Mamas & The Papas.
Thematically, “Solar Power” is much less conceptually unified than Lorde’s prior works. Touching on everything from grief to wellness culture to the cost of celebrity to climate anxiety, the throughline of the album revolves around Lorde’s newfound connection to nature as her source of healing and hope.
Though the album as a whole has moments of lyrical genius and emotional insight, these moments are often lost amid enigmatic platitudes and lackluster music production. While each track is enjoyable individually, the songs lack the cohesion necessary for a truly spectacular album.
In the opener, “The Path,” Lorde asks her audience to look beyond humans for solutions in the face of hardship, singing, “If you’re looking for a savior, well that’s not me,” and hoping “the sun will show us the path.” The eerie harmonies of the opening lines slowly transform into a hummable pop track, symbolizing Lorde’s own optimism for the future.
The title track “Solar Power” builds on this reverence for nature and Lorde’s personal growth. Backed by the buoyant vocals of Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo, Lorde declares “Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried / It’s over / It’s a new state of mind.” Her joyous lyrics and breezy voice paint an idyllic picture of simple summer pleasures, engaging the senses with references to overripe peaches and aquamarine color palettes.
Her clearest evidence of personal and musical growth on the album comes with “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” a song with an absurd title that belies Lorde’s deep emotional maturity and introspection. Her voice in this song is plaintive and understated and unites the hyperspecific visuals of “Pure Heroine” with the visceral feelings captured on “Melodrama.”
Lorde nears the emotional depth of “Pure Heroine” and “Melodrama” on “The Man With the Axe,” a woozy, bass-heavy piece that considers why Lorde fell for her mysterious lover. Spanning the guttural depths to feather-light heights of her vocal range, Lorde’s vulnerability seeps into lines like “You felled me clean as a pine.”
The rest of the album does not pack the same punch as these introspective songs, though. While the lyrics of songs like “Stoned at the Nail Salon” overcome their minimalist, often bland orchestrations, Lorde’s final songs combine indistinguishable beats with tone-deaf, emotionless lyrics.
For example, Lorde leans into menacing, escapist imagery to convey the dread associated with the climate crisis on “Leader of a New Regime” and “Fallen Fruit,” but the songs end up seeming detached and unrelatable. As a millionaire, Lorde can afford to hide from catastrophes many others must face head on, and her ill-considered use of luxurious, carefree imagery with a disregard for the real terror and grief many are experiencing produces alienating effects.
Lorde also botches her foray into satire on “Mood Ring.” Lyrics like “Ladies, begin your sun salutations” and “Pluto in Scorpio generation (Love and light)” are not harsh enough to clarify her sardonic intent and are worsened by characterless guitar accompaniment.
In the final few songs of the album, like “Dominoes,” the music and lyrics are consistently trite and repetitive. In centering her lyrics over the sound, Lorde ultimately diminishes her impact as a lyricist, causing the songs to run together sonically but overreach thematically, leaving many of them feeling unfinished.
Lorde should be commended, nonetheless, for her emotional honesty and choice to focus on personal growth over market viability. When “Solar Power” is regarded in this light, her album is nothing short of a triumph.