Lorde's 'Solar Power' Is A Tonic for Dark Days

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Photo credit: Ophelia Mikkelson Jones
Photo credit: Ophelia Mikkelson Jones

Spare a thought for pop-stars, if you will, who must sometimes feel that they can't win. Stray too far from the sound people have come to expect from you and fans feel mildly betrayed, but fail to reinvent yourself sufficiently and you're accused of playing it safe. Four years on from her beloved 2017 album Melodrama, the return of Lorde has been marked like a celestial event. Yet the dazzling limelight which accompanied her success has only made one of pop music's most reluctant stars more determined to make her return a dimmed affair.

When Solar Power's title track burst brightly into the world in early June, listeners were surprised to hear a sunnier sound from the artist whose music usually veered between manic highs and mischievous lows. For some of her more misanthropic fans, the arrival of a Lorde summer jam was like emos being forced to go to the beach by their parents. But to confuse the dreamy luminosity of her new music with Lorde having softened her edges is to take her music at what it says on the surface and ignore the murkier bits which linger beneath. In the same way that intrepid artists like St Vincent and Robyn have showed their wounds in their most delicate melodies, Solar Power feels as though it entwines both the sunshine she craves and the shadowier sides of her. It is an album that arrives without a standout dance-floor banger – perhaps why she seeded a few out tracks before release, to set the tone of what is to come – but in its place is a more understated moment of reflection.

24-year-old New Zealand native Ella Yelich-O'Connor, aka Lorde, has spent the lead up to this album's release both trying to manage expectations and shrug off the trappings of stardom. She's spoken about having quit social media, made the point she's a pop-star, not a climate activist, and been keen to remind us that making music is a duty which takes her away from her real life, thank you very much. All of which might sound somewhat self-aggrandising if you've spent the last 18 months taking a break from your real life by stacking shelves in a supermarket, but there is something a little thrilling about seeing someone at the top of their game refusing to play ball.

Photo credit: Ophelia Mikkelson Jones
Photo credit: Ophelia Mikkelson Jones


In the folksy opening track, 'The Path', the singer ventures that she 'won’t take the call if it’s the label or radio', later going on to politely remind us, 'If you're looking for a saviour, well that's not me'. It's one of many sly winks she delivers throughout the album, her lyrics spiky but enjoyably so. There is also a sense of escaping from the frenetic pace of life that is threaded through Solar Power: singing on the lullaby of 'Leader of a New Regime' about living our her days on an island, with a 'trunk full of Simone and Celine', having made it there on the last of the outbound planes.

Elsewhere Yelich-O'Connor turns her a sardonic eye to the detritus of modern life, the 'plants and celebrity news, all the vitamins that I consume', which she reels off on the dazed and robotic 'Mood Ring'. In the same song she laments that her mood is as dark as her roots, an image which captures her unique cocktail of cynicism and humour. If rolling your eyes was translated into pop music this is probably what it would sound like.

Solar Power is an album that feels grounded in the earth, both in the landscapes she sings about and the naturalistic sound of the record, void of the synths and auto-tune which crept into Melodrama. But if that album was one kind of performance – with her “cherry black lipstick”, that is now “gathering dust in a drawer”, as she sings on 'Oceanic Feeling' – then Solar Power is another guise for another dawn. A moment of standing in the sunshine as the shade retreats, even if the darkness won't be gone for long.

'Solar Power' is out now

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