Lorde emerges after 4 years to say stop being sad already

Originally published on Sumner Newscow on August 27, 2021

Happy Friday. After four years, Lorde, one of the biggest names in pop music came out of hiding and released a new album. The album is called Solar Power and explores just what Lorde’s been up to since 2017; namely, gaining perspective.

Lorde accrued a massive fanbase of disillusioned young people from her first two works Pure Heroine and Melodrama, but she’s moved on from that pessimistic messaging. This is a welcome change and not an unexpected one considering the growth from her debut album to the next.

Pure Heroine was all about making the jump from adolescence to an uneasy future. Likewise, Melodrama was about finding herself in her newfound adulthood while balancing her life as a pop star. Melodrama couldn’t have happened without that kind of growth and it’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved Lorde’s storytelling.

But now, the same fans that applauded that growth are deriding her latest jump to relative happiness because they haven’t gone through the same internal development. That being said, I don’t know where people get off calling this a “happy” album, but more on that later.

Lorde did what she does best on Solar Power: come up with some of the best-written lyrics that resonate at a deeper level than just “hey, stop being sad.” Unfortunately, that writing was nearly wasted in the hands of her producer Jack Antonoff.

If you’ve read any of my past Taylor Swift album breakdowns, you’ll know I’m a big fan of Antonoff. He’s the principal driver behind Lorde’s sound and the latest wave of Taylor albums, but I’m afraid he’s running out of juice. Rather than experimenting with a new style, Antonoff recycled Folklore/Evermore sound while stripping it down even further.

With all that being said, Solar Power is a fine album. It won’t stand up to Lorde’s previous albums, but it’s still full of really interesting concepts and some good advice for her fans. It’s better suited for a day at the beach or a soundtrack for your mushroom trip, and I think that’s exactly what Lorde had in mind.

So, let’s break it down track by track.

The Path

The album opens up with some uninspired acoustic guitar chords, but it’s hard to notice behind a great opening verse:

“Born in the year of OxyContin

Raised in the tall grass

Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash

Now I’m alone on a windswept island

Caught in the complex divorce of the seasons

Won’t take the call if it’s the label or the radio”

This isn’t your standard pop girl anthem; Lorde is back to remind everyone she knows how to write. All this verse really says is that the artist is a 20-something superstar who wants to get away from the fame for a while, but she clearly cares about how she says it.

The Path also set’s the guiding principle for the rest of the album. Lorde’s telling her fans to cut it out with the depression while Jack Antonoff plays a rejected Folklore track with an electric guitar. Not a bad start, but merely an aperitif for the meat of the album.

Solar Power

Welcome to the meat of the album.

The title track is apparently the only one people are listening to when they say this a happy record. Like I said when the song originally came out, it looks and sounds like a pharmaceutical commercial and it doesn’t require a deep reading.

Lorde’s been hanging out in New Zealand, enjoying her money and the sunshine, so this kind of song was bound to happen. I love bumming around a beach and enjoying myself and if I could make music like Lorde can, I’m sure I would’ve made a pithy beach track as well.

Musically, this song is pretty bland apart from the final breakdown. I think it’s a good lead single, but not one I’ll listen to very often once the shine wears off. It reminds me of Lady Gaga’s Stupid Love in that way

California

Is this just a breakup song with the state of California? Damn right it is, and good for Lorde for creating a completely unrelatable song. She goes out of her way to talk about how much she loved living there but needed to leave because she was so rich and famous.

This is also the start of Jack Antonoff’s fumbling.

California (the song) has some really interesting imagery and Lorde does a great job explaining why she needed to move back to New Zealand, but Jack took any soul of the song he could find. Instead of using that electric guitar he loves so much to push the tempo and get the pace going on an otherwise slow album start, he plays three chords over and over.

That uninspired (lazy) concept leaves the song with a nonchalant feel and a chorus that simply repeats “don’t want that California love” six times in a row. Maybe that’s the tone the pair were reaching for, but if so, it was a bad choice.

Stoned at the Nail Salon

Not even Jack Antonoff’s “paired-down” concept for the album could ruin this song.

Stoned at the Nail Salon is the type of Lorde song, that earned her so many fans. It’s deeply introspective and describes a situation that many of us can relate to without needing any relation to the artist.

This song tackles change, a phenomena Lorde’s been extremely concerned with over her career. In the past, she’s feared change because it happens so fast and seems to be the only way to get thrown into adulthood (a feeling many can sympathize with). But, this time around, she’s more comfortable with the concept and instead reflects on the experiences she’s leaving behind.

Or maybe she’s just really high and overthinking things.

That’s what I like about this song. Lorde walks the listener through her deep musings and the growth she’s had over the past few years without taking herself too seriously. A large portion of this album is explaining to her depressed fans that it’s okay to move on and provide the reassurance she thinks they need, so an admission that she might not know what she’s talking about is extremely refreshing.

Fallen Fruit

Now, here’s the song I don’t think people are listening to when they get mad at Lorde for being “too happy.”

Fallen Fruit is an open letter to her parent’s generation telling them how screwed the rest of us are because they didn’t take care of the Earth. She paints the world as a garden of Eden with all the fruit knocked to the ground and rotting, and she’s not wrong.

The garden imagery is a clear reference to climate change (as Lorde herself explained) and lines like “But how can I love what I know I am gonna lose?” show how founded her pessimism is.

I’ve been beating the drum for years that we’re already too far gone on climate emissions for much of the world and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Lorde agree. If you take issue with Lorde and I’s assessment of the previous generations’ (plural) blame in the matter, just remember that we’ve known how bad this is since the 1960s.

So, Lorde, I, and the rest of the people under the age of 40 will just enjoy dancing in the rapidly warming garden trying to avoid all the fruit our parents left rotting on the floor.

Secrets from a Girl (who’s seen it all)

If you’re a longtime Lorde fan, you no doubt have a deep connection with her song Ribs. Ribs is a terrifying medley about growing up and how fast everything seems to be changing (as it always is for teenagers) and young people latched on to the song with gusto.

Secrets from a Girl is Lorde’s response to her own song. It’s a much slower track that addresses the same fears and insecurities with the gifts of perspective and time.

So, what advice does Lorde have for all you sad fans? Namely:

  • Don’t sell yourself out for physical affection
  • You’ll experience real grief, so feel all of it
  • You’ll love again
  • Everyone is cheering for you, so chase your dreams

Not bad advice, thank you Lorde.

The Man with the Axe

I thought Taylor Swift’s London Boy was a sweet love song for her boyfriend, but that was before I heard the Man with the Axe. It’s a personal song for Lorde’s long-time boyfriend Justin Warren, who is apparently a music producer.

The Man with the Axe is really cute, if you ignore the weird line connecting Warren with Lorde’s dad. The title of the track alludes to how he “felled her like a pine,” which is a clever way of saying she fell for him.

Not much deeper than that, again, this album isn’t meant to be as deep as Melodrama.

Dominoes

I really wish I knew who this song is about because it’s hilariously rude. The entire track is making fun of some man that keeps reinventing himself in new and ridiculous ways every time he wears out his welcome.

Lorde ridicules this mystery man’s attempts to move on from his terrible former selves and puts the album’s concept of welcoming change on its head. Reinventing yourself as you grow is all well and good, but not if you pretend your previous self wasn’t really you either. I love a healthy dose of clarification within an album.

Dominoes is funnier than the rest of the album and it’s the best use of Jack Antonoff’s electric guitar on the whole record. If this was the only time he tried to get away with a paltry set of chords in a quirky syncopation, I could’ve forgiven his lack of effort the other 12 songs.

Big Star

Wow, what a fun song about Lorde idolizing one of her contemporaries. She just wants to let that person know she thinks he’s a celebrity and wants to take a picture with him.

WRONG.

The big star in question is Lorde’s dog Pearl who passed away last year and delayed this album for months. The heartfelt tone of her voice and the moments it nearly breaks with emotion become so much sadder with that knowledge in mind.

Lorde wrote this song for Pearl back when he was still alive, but the lyrics are truly heartbreaking when you realize Lorde’s biggest star has already burnt out. This is not a happy album, I don’t care what anyone says.

Leader of a New Regime

Lorde claims this is her second song about climate change pessimism, but I have another theory.

The story this track lays out is about a pop star who packs up some records and magazines to live out the rest of her days somewhere where climate change hasn’t destroyed. While she’s gone, she begs for a new leader to come out and try to fix the world because she’s done.

On its face, that’s a simple enough story and, after Fallen Fruit, makes a lot of sense on the album. I think it’s a double metaphor, however.

I believe this song’s really a message from Lorde to the rest of the music industry that she’s done being the defining voice of the sad pop girl genre. She even alludes to “the burnt-out scene” in the song, which is the music scene she’s defined for nearly a decade.

Lorde is done being the patron saint of depressed people and this song is an open call for someone else to take up the mantle. I’m cheering for Phoebe Bridgers.

Mood Ring

This is my favorite song on the whole record.

Mood Ring is a satirical blast on the “new age wellness” crazes and anything else that prizes mystic belief over proven remedies. Some of her targets are crystals, horoscopes, burning sage, and “spiritual” yoga, and I couldn’t be happier.

In an album addressed to a younger generation, I think this song was an excellent inclusion. My generation is far more susceptible to believing astrological signs have as much to do with internal feelings as mental disorders so I’m glad took some time to make fun of them.

As a reminder, all these “wellness” cures are fine until people start subbing them in for actual medicine and that’s why a lot of kids will have their souls detoxified by their hipster parents rather than give them medication for a mental disorder.

This song is way lighter than that, but it still needed to be said. Lorde also spared a sentence to make fun of people who turn to Buddhist and Hindu aesthetics to replace deep thought. Yes, meditation and yoga are great practices you can do to help relax your mind and body, but just buying a reclining Buddha from Pier One isn’t going to get you any closer to enlightenment.

Oceanic Feeling

Time to bring it on home. Literally.

Oceanic Feeling is all about Lorde’s personal connections to New Zealand and her family. It’s a six(ish) minute track about her experiences chilling in her home country the last year. She talks about fishing with her brother and muses about raising her own daughter there, amongst other passing thoughts.

The breezy focus (or lack thereof) along with Antonoff’s lazy production give the final song a sense of deep relaxation. After a reflecting on all the things Lorde’s tried to teach us throughout the album, the song drifts off, rather than abruptly ends like her previous works.

Oceanic Feeling is the perfect cap to a perfectly fine album. Lorde used the time to get her points across without being too preachy or judgmental and saved the last nugget of truth for last.

“Was enlightenment found? No, but I’m tryin’, taking it one year at a time.” There you have it, there’s no rush, just figure yourself out at your own pace and in the meantime, Lorde will do the same.

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