Solar Power is triumphant. Not in the way that Melodrama (2017) triumphed tropes of perfect summers dripping with lust and greed, or in the way that Pure Heroine (2013) spoke images of suffocating teenage experiences and the lasting chokehold of dying relationships. Instead, Lorde’s third studio album delivers some of her most striking lyrics to date amongst a sunlit ruse of goodness and post-isolationist clarity.
Rather than lamenting experiences of her past, Solar Power presents Lorde making peace with her youth. The global success of “Royals”—the dream-pop hit precursing her debut, Pure Heroine—stitched a then sixteen-year-old girl from New Zealand to a future of unprecedented success and phenomena. Lorde’s early-onset fame was well deserved but all-consuming.
The thing that most obviously distinguishes Solar Power from its predecessors is its sonic quality. Lorde steps back from the sparse, moody pop haze that can be found in her previous work and a variety of new genres; looping guitar riffs, dizzying cymbals, and acoustic licks that channel 90s nostalgia—”Secrets from a Girl: (Who’s Seen it All).” Note the baroque pop tone of “California,” or the quiet, drained exhaustion of “Big Star” that stuns like a Mazzy Star song.
It wasn’t such a surprise when Lorde retreated into isolation following the success of Melodrama, her sophomore record. With the loss of her dog Pearl in 2019, music was fittingly shelved in terms of priorities. I still remember the email Lorde wrote in the aftermath of her dog’s passing: “It was summer, a time of year which is usually so clarifying and special to me, but I was grieving hard for Pearl, carrying it everywhere with me,” she wrote, “I found a note in my phone from November which said: ‘I eat a grief sandwich / I wear a grief coat / I see a grief film.’”
Despite its sunniness, Solar Power is a record driven by grief—grief over Lorde’s lost relationships, Pearl, and an absence of ignorance. Some of Solar Power’s most unassuming songs are the most ephemeral. Take “The Man with an Axe,” for example; a subdued, acoustic ballad, but with Lorde’s voice as poignant as ever. She shakily rises above the ambiance: “I should’ve known when your favorite record / Was the same as my father’s, you’d take me down.”
Upon release, critics wrote the record off as “underwhelming.” But I’d argue that Lorde’s sound has never felt so overwhelming—only she could deliver a line as punching as “Just another phase you’re rushing on through / Go all New Age, outrunning your blues / Fifty gleaming chances in a row / And I watch you flick them down like dominoes / Must feel good being Mr. Start Again.” The reserved, cautious music reflects the retreat of a mourning woman and the entry of a realized, satirically enlightened one (“Mood Ring”). Her lyricism still concerns itself with themes of disenchantment and temporary highs, but they manifest themselves in different ways. Motifs of both realization (“California”) and dissociation (“Stoned at the Nail Salon”) are emblematic of a new dawn.
Lorde’s third studio album is deceiving in all the right places. Solar Power delivers lines that carry the strength to kill, most overtop sunny guitar riffs like it was yesterday’s news. Unlike the outright heartbreak and anger of hits like “Green Light” or “Supercut,” these songs are underscored; subtle. Anger, despair, euphoria; it all melds into one on Solar Power, making for a record that is perfectly profound in its own passive, phlegmatic way.