Lorde Opts Out on the Provocatively Subdued ‘Solar Power’

Eight years in the past, the New Zealand pop singer-songwriter Lorde’s breakout hit “Royals” arrived with a seismic rumble and an observational critique: “Every song’s like ‘gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom, blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room.’”

For all its eye-rolling, refusenik angle, the implicit joke was that “Royals” was in some sense a type of everysongs, too, lip-syncing alongside to the similar sentiment it was rejecting. After all, that hook was one in every of the catchiest components of the tune, underlined by Lorde’s signature, soon-to-be-ubiquitous multitracked self-harmonies.

Eventual accusations that “Royals” was moralizing about hip-hop tradition didn’t essentially take into consideration the incontrovertible fact that it was paying studied homage to it — woven into the sonic DNA of the tune’s low-blood-pressure, 808-heartbeat. Lorde’s music is usually idiosyncratically private, but it surely additionally speaks from the perspective of the royal “We.” Something that has all the time saved her standpoint from feeling didactic — even when it has sometimes made her intentions really feel just a little muddled — is the means her music blurs the line between social commentary and self-own.

In the same spirit, on the third observe of her provocatively subdued third album, “Solar Power,” Lorde declares in her looping, vocal cursive, “Don’t want that California love” — this on a tune that explicitly references Laurel Canyon people, the most well-known Joan Didion essay and Quentin Tarantino’s Los Angeles pastiche “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Once once more, it takes one to know one. “It’s all just a dream,” Lorde gently chides the Coachella-era flower youngsters, on a weightless, twinkling tune that sounds suspiciously like one.

Earlier this summer season, when Lorde first launched the album’s breezy title observe, some listeners who had anticipated a sound much like her bruising, resilient 2017 triumph, “Melodrama,” have been left questioning if the 24-year-old recognized in civilian life as Ella Yelich-O’Connor was kidding. Was this a sendup of influencer tradition or a music video explicitly designed as a carousel of Instagram screenshots? How may somebody who’d beforehand made an emotionally operatic 11-song idea album about operating into an ex at a celebration instantly toss off a line as carefree as “Forget all of the tears that you’ve cried, it’s over”?

“Solar Power” and its subsequent singles, “Stoned at the Nail Salon” and “Mood Ring,” make extra sense inside the context of the album, thanks largely to the vivid scene-setting opener, “The Path.” Atop a murky guitar, Lorde presents a collection of impressionistic snapshots of her post-“Royals” life: Attending the 2016 Met Gala in a solid, swiping a fork as a memento for her mom, “supermodels all dancing ’round a pharaoh’s tomb.” Elsewhere, she recollects the life-changing second “when Carole called my name” (as in, Carole King saying “Royals” as tune of the 12 months at the 2014 Grammys) and admits, “I’ve got hundreds of gowns, I’ve got paintings in frames and a throat that fills with panic every festival day.”

With the plunging swoop of refrain on “The Path,” although, Lorde instantly rejects the notion that anybody current for such surreal, celebrity-studded scenes — together with herself — can inform the common particular person tips on how to reside their life. “If you’re looking for a savior, well, that’s not me,” she sings, her lush stacked vocals this time highlighting the line’s unapologetic defiance.

Lorde, although, is hardly alone on this sentiment. It is considerably outstanding to think about what number of pop albums of the previous 12 months have taken up the sometimes-debilitating stress related to modern-day fame as their fundamental theme: Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever,” Clairo’s “Sling,” and Lana Del Rey’s “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” all chronicle their creators’ burnout and contemplate, to various levels, packing it in and quitting the pop recreation endlessly. (The same dialog has been occurring with younger ladies in the sports activities world, too.) It is probably not such a coincidence that three of those 4 albums, together with “Solar Power,” have been produced largely by the seemingly busiest producer in the music business, the girl-pop-Zelig Jack Antonoff.

What retains a lot of “Solar Power” from actually taking root, although, is that almost all of those songs are written from the perspective of an enviably serene particular person snugly on the different facet of that wrestle. “Dancing with my girls, only having two drinks, then leaving/It’s a funny thing, thought you’d never gain self control,” Lorde sings blithely on one in every of the album’s extra cloying numbers, “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All).” At occasions, “Stoned” and the in any other case incisive “The Man With the Axe” depict private development and maturity as a common footbridge that one decisively crosses as soon as and for throughout age 21, moderately than a messy, ongoing, lifelong strategy of stops and false begins. “I thought I was a genius,” she displays on “Axe,” “but now I’m 22.” At least wait till Saturn returns, Lorde!

Make no mistake, amber is the shade of her vitality, at the least at the second. The temper board of her profession peak, “Melodrama,” although, contained an entire kaleidoscope of shade, and it’s that fantastic album’s sense of distinction and sonic dynamism that’s lacking the most right here. Every tune on “Solar Power” pulls from the same and finely curated aesthetic — early 2000s “CW”-theme-song pop; sun-drenched ’70s people; only a pinch of Kabbalah-era Madonna — and barely attracts outdoors these strains, not to mention picks up otherwise hued crayons. Name-dropped correct nouns too typically really feel like a pile of signifiers one step away from being formed into sharper observations. Even the songs that almost all straight skewer modern-day wellness tradition (the non secular satire “Mood Ring,” the devilishly emasculating “Dominoes”) wouldn’t precisely be offensive to the ears in the event that they have been performed throughout a yoga class’s savasana.

Perhaps the most stirring moments on the album come towards the very finish, at the conclusion of the unfastened, winding six-minute nearer, “Oceanic Feeling.” It’s partially a showcase of the placing, near-photographic readability Lorde can generally obtain together with her lyrics (“I see your silver chain levitate when you’re kickflipping”) and a sort of guided visualization of an eventual life after pop stardom. The woman who simply eight years in the past was asking, nonetheless playfully, to be your ruler is now singing with a stirring serenity, “I’ll know when it’s time to take off my robes and step into the choir.”

Even because it has billowed to think about such lofty parts as water, solar and air, Lorde’s close-miked music has retained such a cautious intimacy that, at occasions, you’ll be able to nonetheless truly hear her smiling. But like a beaming Instagram picture selectively chosen from an enormous digicam roll of outtakes, “Solar Power” stops simply in need of providing a full, various vary of expressions.

Lorde
“Solar Power”
(Republic)