Last year, Lorde made a pilgrimage to Antarctica, eager, it seemed, to find out about the climate crisis firsthand. Her journey led many to believe that the 24-year-old’s highly anticipated third album would arrive within the sort of a true life Sick Sad World. Instead, Lorde appears sun-kissed and enlightened on solar energy, released Friday. “Come on and let the bliss begin,” she signals to listeners, a sentiment that seems like it should come from a SoulCycle instructor or new age cult leader instead of a pop star, on the album’s title track. Four years after 2017’s Melodrama, she’s returned: No shoes, no shirt, no impending doom.
After the success of that previous album, Lorde returned home to Auckland, her own almost fictionally perfect oasis, and logged off, (“Can you reach me? No, you can’t” one lyric on solar energy declares). The time spent away seems to possess ushered her into a replacement era, one centered around the pursuit of eternal optimism. It’s a compelling transition since she spent most of her adolescence soundtracking the blows of the coming age. On solar energy, Lorde pauses to require a deep breath. Much of the strain that she’s inbuilt her previous two albums finds release here. during a sigh of relief on “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” she sings, “Well, my hot blood’s been burnin’ for therefore many summers now, It’s time to chill it down, wherever that leads.”
Ultimately, it’s hard to mention where exactly solar energy goes. The album’s 12 tracks recount everything from fleeing Hollywood, like on the opening track, “The Path” during which Lorde confesses to “having nightmares from the camera flash” to winning Song of the Year at the 2014 Grammys before bidding farewell to classic rockstar fare: bottles, motels, hotels, and jets. During the 43-plus minutes that structure solar energy, Lorde toes the road between reveling in her past self and arriving at this new season of her life.
“Now the cherry black lipstick’s gathering dust during a drawer / I don’t need her anymore / ‘cause I got this power,” she insists on “Oceanic Feeling,” referencing the dark pout that was long considered her signature look. On “The Man With the Axe,” Lorde criticizes her younger self, crooning, “I thought I used to be a genius, but now I’m twenty-two / And it’s startin’ to desire all I do know the way to do is placed on a suit and take it away.” It’s an honest admission about what celebrity has done to her psyche, but as an entire, the album plays like another cautionary tale about the pitfalls of fame and fortune.
Solar Power marks the primary time Lorde has traded within the cinematic arrangements that made Pure Heroine (2013) and Melodrama so palatable, for a more stripped-down, sometimes hypnotizing, seemingly drowsy version of herself. Produced together with her longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff, together they pull back a couple of too many layers, occasionally erasing Lorde’s signature bite from the equation. There are standout moments, like on “Secrets From a woman (Who’s Seen It All)”, where a beautifully bizarre voiceover from Robyn, who plays the role of steward, announces what’s future once you reach your destination: sadness, equipped with yes, emotional baggage, that cause you to wonder what the track could are had it not been dialed down. Lorde’s songwriting carries the album by combining revelation and wit to require us together with her as she treks through self-discovery.
Four years spent unplugged (except, of course, for her secret Instagram account,) left Lorde with much time to interpret the planet around her. On “Mood Ring” she pokes fun at wellness culture, “Ladies, begin your sun salutations / Transcendental in your meditations (Love and light) / you’ll burn sage, and I’ll cleanse the crystals” But, albeit Lorde is in on the joke when much of the remainder of the album also read like snippets from a Goop gift guide (with references to psychedelic garlands, and SPF 3000) it is often hard to inform where the joke ends.
Regardless, her storytelling roots shine through on tracks like “Oceanic Feeling,” where she takes a dig at a past lover “I know a woman who knows another girl who knows the lady that you simply hurt / It’s strange to ascertain you smoking marijuana / You wont to do the foremost cocaine of anyone I’d ever met.” it’s in moments like this, and on the quiet “Big Star,” with its lyrics like “I’ll still watch you run through the winter light / I wont to love the party now I’m not alright / Hope the honey bees make it home tonight,” that Lorde really delivers her trademark bared emotion. It’s obvious that Lorde knows that few listeners do “yoga with Uma Thurman’s mother” or are surrounded by supermodels “‘round a pharaoh’s tomb” at the Met Gala, but on solar energy, she, playing the part of cult leader (a self-anointed “prettier Jesus”), still offers us her survival guide. But the selection is ours.