Four years ago, Lorde released “Melodrama,” arguably the best pop record of 2017. Filled with anthemic break-up songs and somber ballads, the record garnered critical and fan acclaim and nabbed her a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year (as the only woman in the field). After embarking on a worldwide tour that concluded in 2018, she simply disappeared from the public view.
Nobody heard from her again until the very end of 2020, when she traveled to Antarctica. Following the trip, Lorde would call for immediate action on climate change, which impacts Antarctica significantly, and described the experience with terms such as “dazzling,” “thrilling” and “spiritually intense.”
However, on Lorde’s new album “Solar Power,” the listening experience is akin to going on a wellness retreat, except the meals are bland, and the fun activities are reduced to sunbathing and ceremonial dance.
Unlike “Pure Heroine” and “Melodrama,” many tracks on “Solar Power” fail to create a definitive moment that would move the listener into the world that Lorde is envisioning. The main culprit is the lackluster production, led by in-demand pop-producer Jack Antonoff, which features too many listless acoustic guitar chords and soft snares.
The opening track “The Path” begins beautifully enough, with seductive guitar strums and dreamy production that truly hits the mark midway through. The song also provides a preview of the concept of this album, which is about leaving the paranoia and disillusionment of fame behind in favor of seclusion, spirituality and nature.
“Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash,” she sings. “Now, I’m alone on a windswept island.”
The following track and lead single, “Solar Power,” received divided reactions from her fans, but after multiple listens, the song somehow manages to work very well. From the catchy flow against the backdrop of bare acoustic guitar in the beginning to the casual assuredness in Lorde’s voice when she calls herself “a prettier Jesus,” it progresses into pure bliss once the drums kick in on the last third of the track and provides a rare glimpse into Lorde’s current sunny disposition.
From there, this album displays a variety of missteps. On “California,” Lorde sings about wanting to leave California, but the production is muted and uninspiring. It isn’t helped by a redundant chorus of her singing, “Don’t want that California love.”
Both “Stoned at the Nail Salon” and “Fallen Fruit” seem to drone on longer than their four-minute runtimes. Meanwhile, “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)” is a nice song that features buoyant guitar production, but it suffers from track sequencing. After listening to the last three tracks, whichfeature the acoustic guitar in the most unimaginative way possible, the impact doesn’t hit the same.
“The Man with the Axe” is the most frustrating track on the album. This song features Lorde’s songwriting at its best as she weaves in the theme of man-made climate change with the tale of a man she has been in love with for years.
“You felled me clean as a pine,” she sings.
Unfortunately, it is wasted by bland production. It’s almost as if Lorde told Antonoff to play the guitar like a lost girl wandering aimlessly through the woods, because the production never arrives at an exciting destination.
On “Dominoes,” Lorde sings about observing an abuser who keeps reinventing himself into a good guy. The good lyrics and short runtime manage to lift this song, despite the production not being of much help.
But the last third of “Solar Power” is the hardest to sit through. “Big Star,” “Leader of a New Regime” and “Oceanic Feeling” showcases this album’s production at its worst. They required multiple listens to remind me what they sounded like, fading from my memory so quickly.
However, it is “Mood Ring ” that features the oddest vocal performance that I have heard from Lorde. She tries to use a raspy singing voice, and it doesn’t quite click, ruining one of the better production efforts from Antonoff.
In an essay for New Zealand’s Metro magazine, Lorde described her five-day stay in Antarctica as an exhausting experience. After listening to this album, I can very well say the same.