20 Aug 2021

Review: Lorde is confident to be herself in new album Solar Power

6:58 pm on 20 August 2021

Lorde has always been an astute observer who has achieved the rare feat of distilling this uncanny and precocious skill into catchy, chart topping pop music.

Lorde poses in yellow for her Solar Power album.

Lorde poses for her Solar Power album. Photo: Ophelia Mikkelson Jones

She's the knowing friend who takes you by the hand into the oh-so-cool places. Her raspy whispered reckons being the balm on the imposter syndrome and insecurities banging about in your head.

Lorde Solar Power Cover

Lorde Solar Power Cover Photo: supplied

In that vein Solar Power stays true to Ella Yellich-O'Connor's lyrical magic power.

It is just that where she has been and what she has seen is so removed from what any of us have experienced - remember when she was momentarily running with Taylor Swift's squad? But the album generously gives a glimpse into the rarefied and heady world Yellich-O'Connor has navigated to reach the quarter-life ennui.

Perhaps that is why only Lorde could sing that she was "born of the year of Oxycontin" in the opening song. It's a weird flex to connect your year of birth with one of the most destructive opioids in modern history, although being only 16-years-old with a chart topping, Grammy-Award nominated debut album called Pure Heroine may give you the right to sing that.

Solar Power is a pause.

It's a reflective collection of songs to take stock of a rather unusual adolescence. A record where your uber-talented friend who was off doing crazy cool shit while you remained home has come home to spill the tea on that world of A-list parties, awards ceremonies, the secrets of the green room.

It is a world that Lorde has achieved success in, one she's complicit in and one that isn't particularly grounding or sustainable. A world that afforded her more material comfort than she needs in a lifetime, and one where Carole King presents you with an award (see the opening line to 'California') is also the one that takes her so far away from home. The place where you can grow veges, hear cicadas and be in embrace of your family (the closing track 'Oceanic Feeling').

The sonic universe of Solar Power is a new place for an artist who came to prominence on highly produced digital pop music. Even if 'Royals' was comparatively minimalist for its time.

The acoustic guitars and Second Summer of Love keys of Solar Power are in tune with the current 1990s revival. Those a bit greyer around the temples and thicker about the waist may recall that the 1990s sounds were themselves considered a pastiche of 1970s fashion and music.

In Solar Power you can hear an artist whose is excitedly sharing their recent discoveries: The sounds of Laurel Canyon in its heyday, or the Beatles post-LSD and India sojourns. Lorde's newest record is an ode to a time perceived as simpler, better in tune with nature and blissfully ignorant of the climate catastrophe. Though it is presented without the luscious richness of 20th Century audio production.

Mid album, Lorde's distinctive vocal delivery begins to grate for a lack of variety. On her previous album, Melodrama, the soaring, swooping glory of 'Writer in The Dark' showcased Lorde's great knack for storytelling through lyric and voice. With production duties shared between Malay and Jack Antonoff it is curious that Solar Power lacks dynamism and drama.

Also in step with 1990s sensibilities is Lorde's rejection of being a generational spokesperson and/or role model. This is she firmly states on 'The Path' - Solar Power's opening track - she's not your saviour.

Solar Power has a brutal honesty in that Lorde has served us a record that is a true portrait of 24 year old Ella Yellich-O'Connor. A young woman who was thrust into a world both of her own design and not. In Solar Power she shares what that experience is.

Even if the video to the title track attracted criticism that the singer was "out of touch" with the real world in calling herself a "pretty Jesus" in a cultish, instagram-perfect fantasy Island. If anything, Solar Power as a project shows Lorde being confident enough to be herself - your hot mess, reassuring famous friend who is just trying to get by like we all are right now.

*Tune into RNZ Music 101 at midday on Saturday for Charlotte Ryan's interview with Lorde

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