- Lorde released her third studio album, “Solar Power,” on Friday.
- It further cements Lorde as a once-in-a-generation lyricist with a talent for earworm melodies.
- The best songs are “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All),” “The Man With the Axe,” and “Mood Ring.”
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter has been extremely elusive since 2017’s “Melodrama,” which was nominated for album of the year at the Grammy Awards and ranked the eighth-best album of the decade by Insider.
Her long-anticipated follow-up was coproduced by Jack Antonoff and largely inspired by sun-soaked summers in New Zealand during Lorde’s time away from the spotlight. She has described it as “one of my great weed albums,” as well as “a celebration of the natural world.”
Here is what we thought of each song on “Solar Power” upon first listen. (Skip to the end to see the only songs worth listening to and the album’s final score.)
These lyrics land like a mini memoir, though they maintain a sort of mystique. This is the sort of vivid songwriting that’s become Lorde’s trademark, and “The Path” is some of her best work to date.
In between her careful word selections that evoke precise images, places, and events — OxyContin, windswept island, a fork in a purse, a pharaoh’s tomb — there is romance and glamour and drama. We can choose to fill in the blanks with real details from Lorde’s life, or infuse the empty spaces with our own dreams and delusions.
As Lorde moves into the real crux of the song, she introduces the album’s dominant theme: her devotion to the sun. “The Path” plays like the prologue for an epic poem, an invocation to her muse. If we’re looking to Lorde for leadership or salvation, she makes it clear she’s just the conduit through which the sun may speak.
Larocca: Earlier this week, Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield made an astute observation about the “Solar Power” singles on Twitter: “Lorde was born in November 1996. she’s released 3 straight singles that sound like literally everything that was on VH1 in November 1996. therefore, this album will be her 1989 & it will be brilliant (sorry but this is math).”
Lo and behold, Sheffield nailed it; the album opens on the line, “Born in the year of OxyContin,” referring to 1996, the year the drug was developed and patented, and the year of our Lorde’s birth.
But while “Solar Power” takes sonic cues from its artist’s birth year, Lorde wants it known upfront that she’s not a pop star coming into her full power like Taylor Swift was when she released “1989.” Instead, she’s a celebrity dismantling her own star power to reclaim her humanity; She stole fancy Met Gala silverware for her mother and disappeared back into the sun.
On “The Path,” Lorde candidly explains that if you’re looking for a savior, that’s not her. She’s just as broken and sad as everyone else, and her music isn’t going to fix that. But she’s willing to take you with her on her next trip to the sun — and the path starts here.
When I listened to “Solar Power” for the first time, I recorded a video of my reaction and sent it to Courteney. She replied, “u look so happy!!!!!” That night, I drank a homemade beachy cocktail in Lorde’s honor (vodka, white wine, lemonade, peach seltzer, and elderflower liqueur). This is the energy I want to carry every day for the rest of my life.
In short, “Solar Power” does exactly what it’s supposed to do. Its frothy blend of early-aughts pop and salt-of-the-earth acoustics does sound like skateboarding, as Lorde desired. It also sounds like biking home from a particularly productive therapy session during golden hour (based on a true story).
Much like the euphoria-inducing “Green Light,” this song works beautifully as an introduction to Lorde’s newest realm, despite whiplash-induced reactions from some disappointed fans. And much like “Green Light,” this song gets better with each listen.
Larocca: Just a vibe!
Lorde’s outsiderism has returned, as well as her reverence for “cities you’ll never see on-screen.” But this time, her retreat is warm, twinkly, and rosy-cheeked. It recalls Angus & Julia Stone’s “Santa Monica Dream” and Nelly’s “Just a Dream,” infusing Lorde’s memories of California with a fanciful, fantastical allure.
You get the feeling that Lorde isn’t quite sold on her own Kiwi fealty. Things tend to sound less true the more often you repeat them (“Don’t want that California love” she claims, over and over), and Lorde admits she still yearns for a “golden body” in her bed (a Grammy Award? The glowing halo of fame?). I doubt it’s a coincidence that it’s hard to tell whether she’s singing “I wanna wake up” or “don’t wanna wake up.”
The song’s subtle, eerie ambivalence makes for a brilliant prelude to “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” which explores this theme more openly.
Larocca: I’m conflicted on “California.” My initial instinct is to dislike it — I’m not a fan of the refrain, “Don’t want that California love” and I’m cynical about any and all songs in which a famous person complains about being famous. These types of songs don’t have a universal appeal and only add to the fame the artist is complaining about!
That said, the whispered harmonies on “Now in my hometown, sunbathing / My girlfriends and my baby” are heavenly, and it sneakily lays out a foundation for the next track to ricochet off.
In fact, this entire dreamy song is threaded with lyrical pearls, like an enchanted blanket knitted by a woodland witch. “Got a memory of waiting in your bed wearing only my earrings” is particularly savory, though extremely painful — especially now I know, per her newsletter, that it’s set in the same bedroom from “The Lourve.” Ouch.
Of course, I’d be foolish not to mention the song’s most crucial line: “I don’t know, maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon.” Somehow, Lorde managed to lace her blanket with a sly punchline without diminishing the overall effect. Magic!
Larocca: Following Lorde’s declaration that she’s done with fame and ready to head back to her hometown for good, we find her buzzed in a salon chair, scrutinizing this very decision.
But unlike “California,” Lorde’s drug-induced existential crisis is potently relatable. It’s the kind of work you’d expect from a songwriter who has been long praised for evoking the angst and emotions that characterize various stages of youth. If I were to choose any song in existence to represent what it feels like to be in your mid-20s, I would choose this.
It’s about the moment you look up and see your life for what it is — and realize you aren’t sure how you got here, or if the choices you made along the way betrayed you entirely. Then you’re brushing the whole thing off because hey, maybe it’s all going to be OK; maybe you’re just stoned at the nail salon, again.
This song gave me full-body chills when I heard it for the first time earlier this summer. “Stoned at the Nail Salon” is dizzying and contemplative, made all the more haunting by woozy backing vocals from indie pop’s Resident Sad Girls, Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo.
The juxtaposition between this song’s two elements — the ghost of Laurel Canyon and the modern bridge — is truly fascinating, as well as fitting. The 808 that appears halfway through sounds like a stuttering heartbeat. It’s like “Fallen Fruit” is trying to revive the pre-technology counterculture of a bygone era, but it’s already mourning its own failure.
Larocca: “Fallen Fruit” asks our parents’ generation why they devastated the earth and left us with a climate crisis we didn’t create for ourselves — and it does so in the sonic vein of songs they grew up with.
It also boasts one of the album’s only bridges, which is the direct result of Lorde apparently having “nothing else to say” when she gets to that part of the song.
She told Coup de Main magazine, “I don’t write many bridges anymore; I don’t know why. I’m just not good at them. Taylor is so good at them; we do talk about it. I’m like ‘How are you so good at bridges?’ By the time I get to that point I’m like, ‘Argh! I’ve got nothing else to say.'”
Just four years ago, Lorde performed “Liability” on “Saturday Night Live” with a framed photo of Robyn on top of the piano. “The truth is I am a toy that people enjoy ’til all of the tricks don’t work anymore,” she sang, before ending the song with a promise: “You’re all gonna watch me disappear into the sun.”
Now, Lorde is serenading her younger self on an album called “Solar Power,” singing lovingly of her own “mystical ambitions,” while the Swedish high priestess of Poptimism herself invites us to go look at the sunrise. Could anything possibly be more perfect?
This will most likely go down as my favorite song from “Solar Power.” I actually cried while listening to this at the nail salon. No, I wasn’t stoned, but yes, I am a cliché.
Larocca: In the Spotify notes for “Secrets From a Girl,” Lorde wrote, “I was listening to ‘Ribs,’ and just thinking about who I was at that time of life. I was so apprehensive about what was to come. I took two of the chords from that song and reversed them. This is future me talking back saying… ‘It’s going to be okay.'”
If you, like me, were fortunate enough to be born between 1994 and 1998, you had the opportunity to turn “Ribs” into your personality when she released “Pure Heroine” in 2013. Now, our Lorde and Not-Savior is reflecting on what she’s learned in the years since she was a teen laughing ’til her ribs got tough.
There are probably plenty of secrets packed into this track that’ll unveil themselves with time, but one of my immediate favorites is Lorde’s newfound relationship with time itself. No longer does it drive her crazy getting old: “Couldn’t wait to turn 15 / Then you blink and it’s been 10 years / Growing up a little at a time, then all at once.”
And even if she’s alone — the opening line “Dancing with my girls” could be a callback to “Liability” when she sings about being “one girl swaying alone stroking her cheek” — she’s learned to face that feeling.
The song ends with a brilliant outro by Robyn, who serves as a travel guide tasked with navigating her passengers through the ages between 15 and 25. She narrates a journey through sadness, until reaching a final destination marked by euphoria and existential vertigo. Welcome to your mid-20s.
The shimmery chords and sparse production compliment the stream-of-consciousness lyrical structure. Lorde revealed that she originally wrote “The Man With the Axe” as a poem and barely changed the words, “apart from maybe taking one line out.” I love how it almost sounds like a demo whose raw form was too pure to revise, whose love was spilling out.
In fact, I would consider “The Man With the Axe” as the only real love song in Lorde’s catalog. “400 Lux” came close, but it feels closer to a teenager’s courtship stage (“I like you”). You could make a case for “The Lourve,” but “nights perfumed with obsession” and “sweetheart psychopathic crush” sound more like an ill-advised summer fling than true intimacy.
As such, “The Man With the Axe” is almost jarring. I’ve never heard Lorde’s voice sound like this, so tender and dazed, and the lyrics are suitably vulnerable. “I should have known when your favorite record was the same as my father’s, you’d take me down” may be my new favorite Lorde lyric of all time.
Larocca: “The Man With the Axe” is an intimate glimpse into a stable relationship, in which Lorde contrasts her anxieties — “I thought I was a genius, but now I’m 22 / And it’s startin’ to feel like all I know how to do is / Put on a suit and take it away;” “A throat that fills with panic every festival day” — with the grounding presence of a partner bringing her back down to earth.
The production itself is subtle and warm. It’s a song that deserves to be played from a record player in a candlelit living room — a familial type of place where you can watch “the flick of the lights” as “the world falls away.” It’s where Lorde is no longer swaying alone stroking her cheek.
She’s gone home to the arms of the boy with the plan.
This is an excellent example of Lorde’s flair for track sequencing. On the heels of “The Man With the Axe,” an ode to a partner who’s grounded and reliable, the jabs on “Dominoes” land even harder: “It’s strange to see you smoking marijuana. You used to do the most cocaine of anyone I’d ever met!” It’s so fun to hear Lorde roll her eyes at some flighty, shallow poser.
Larocca: “Dominoes” is sonically reminiscent of the Jonas Brothers’ “Lovebug” and thematically similar to Swift’s “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” which is largely believed to be about Joe Jonas. I don’t know whether this means Jonas should sleep with one eye open or cover this song. Probably both.
Deceptively summery, “Dominoes” masks a scathing analysis of an ex with a warm, plucky guitar. But the true genius of the track is revealed when it’s listened to immediately after “The Man With the Axe.”
On the preceding track, Lorde imagines herself as a pine tree standing so tall she’s “halfway to space.” Her partner, then, is a man with an axe, who works to make her fall for him, grounding her in the process.
But on “Dominoes,” it’s no longer a good thing to take something down: “You get 50 gleaming chances in a row / And I watch you flick them down like dominoes.” It takes little effort to knock over some dominoes, whereas felling is deliberate and requires commitment.
Together, these songs show how difficult it is to build a good relationship, and how easy it is to ruin one. “The boy with the plan” even rhymes with “Mr. Start Again.”
Throughout “Melodrama,” Lorde uses summertime to illustrate the heated force of love — as well as its looming, inevitable ebb. When she mentions winter on “Hard Feelings,” she’s in the midst of a breakup, on the verge of becoming a stranger to a person she once cherished.
She continues that thread on “Big Star,” twisting a lyric from “Liability” to evoke grief and the end of a beloved relationship: “Every perfect summer’s gotta take its flight / I’ll still watch you run through the winter light.”
This song would be devastating no matter the inspiration. “I used to love the party now I’m not alright / Drinking in the dark, take me home tonight” is a masterful breakup couplet. The basic sentiment of the chorus, “Wanna take your picture,” is a striking summary of modern affection.
But knowing that Lorde wrote this song about her dog Pearl, who died young in 2019, adds a whole extra layer of heartache.
Larocca: Nothing can send me into a downward spiral faster than thinking about the mortality of my cat, and how she likely won’t be with me in 10 years’ time. Lorde wrote “Big Star” about her beloved dog, Pearl, while he lay under her piano, before he died suddenly in October 2019. It’s a tender ode to the furry friend that lies on the floor as we drink in the dark at home tonight, and the local celebrity that dominates your phone’s photo album.
For me, I’ll never be able to hear this song again without sobbing on the spot. For my cat, well, she better get used to hearing “Everyone knows that you’re too good for me, don’t they?” and “You’re a big star!” every time I snap a new picture of her.
Both in content and tone, the parallel is clear. Lorde tells the story of a pop star in the future, escaping the collapse of society with magazines and designer dresses. Alex Turner envisions a luxury resort on the moon, a scene that explores “the role of entertainment — the desire to escape into it, and the desire to create it — during periods of societal upheaval and crisis,” per Rolling Stone’s Jonah Weiner.
I appreciate both “Leader of a New Regime” and “Tranquility Base” for their shared conceptual intrigue, but they share a slightly underwhelming execution. At least Lorde’s version is less than two minutes long.
Larocca: “Leader of a New Regime” plays out more like an interlude than its own moment, bridging the emotional vulnerability found on the run from “Secrets of a Girl (Who’s Seen it All” through “Big Star” with the esoteric satire of “Mood Ring.” It’s a segue into a different vibe on the album, but as a solo track, it’s a bit snoozy.
Although, I do love the imagery of Lorde’s pop-star persona packing a bag of magazines and designer dresses to escape the apocalypse. She warned us she’s not our savior!
The song is a certified hit, earworm, head-banger — whatever term you prefer. Its twinkly production has been playing on a ceaseless loop in my head. Lyrically, Lorde adopts a persona she has both pity and empathy for, someone who uses horoscopes and incense to distract herself from a vague existential ache.
It doesn’t sound like a condescending mess because we understand this girl’s perspective, her yearning for something to soothe, and Lorde implicates herself in the process. I mean, here is an artist who gets her aura photographed in Chinatown and wishes her fans a “happy solstice” via email, claiming to be distant from the mood ring-wearer who gets high and does yoga to feel better. Sure, Ella!
Larocca: OK, first things first: Lorde isn’t a member of the Pluto in Scorpio generation. Pluto left Scorpio and entered Sagittarius in November 1995. She’s making fun of us! More specifically, me, because I’m the kind of person who knows this. But I do appreciate the link between this and the “L-O-V-E-L-E-S-S generation” she sings about on “Hard Feelings/Loveless.”
I also love how the line “Don’t you think the early 2000s seem so far away?” changes if we consider Sheffield’s aforementioned theory about this being Lorde’s “1989” album. Instead of two decades ago, the early 2000s are the future for someone in 1996.
This song is knowingly transcendental and addictive. I already know “I can’t feel a thing / I keep looking at my mood ring” will be stuck in my head until Pluto enters Pisces in the year 2043.
Both “Oceanic Feeling” and “Ribs” take ordinary, mundane experiences and make them feel divine. While Lorde was once throwing a party at her mom’s house, terrified to grow up, now she looks around the same town and sees wide-open potential. She offers comfort to her little brother: “I know you’re scared, so was I.”
“Now the cherry black lipstick’s gathering dust in a drawer / I don’t need her anymore / ‘Cause I got this power,” Lorde sings in the outro.
When you’re young, you’re terrified that someone might misunderstand you, steal your fleeting sense of self — so you project an image, put on armor, wear black lipstick. If you’re lucky and mindful, you grow out of that. I’m reminded of my favorite tweet of all time, by Jenny Slate: “As the image of myself becomes sharper in my brain&more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.”
Larocca: “Oceanic Feeling” is the most vivid moment on “Solar Power,” and the most serene. One second Lorde’s cliff jumping into Lake Taupo, the next she’s watching sunlight reflecting off a chain around her brother Angelo’s neck.
Tucked between these images of a New Zealand summer day are meditations on lineage and the ways in which her life reflects her father’s. She questions if her own daughter’s life will reflect hers.
Wondering if a future child will have her widow’s peak is innocuous enough, but when put into context with songs like “Fallen Fruit” and “Leader of a New Regime,” there’s something more heartbreaking to consider. Can our generation really become parents if the world is ending?
If we did, would their lives look like ours? Would they be able to split a tab with their lover and laugh with the stars like their mother while catching the last of the outbound planes, wearing SPF 3,000 for the ultraviolet rays?
It’s a dizzying spiral to fall into. But like a lifeguard pulling you back up to the surface, Lorde eases you out of your head with a calm, meditative chant: “I just had to breathe (Breathe out, breathe out, breathe out) / And tune in (Tune in, tune in, tune in, tune in).”
Much like its two brilliant predecessors, “Solar Power” reminds me of the classic hero’s journey, littered throughout literature, film, and mythology: Gilgamesh’s sacred quest; Dorothy’s voyage through Oz; Orpheus’ tragic escape from the underworld. The protagonist is brave, but not pure. The moral isn’t always obvious, if it’s there at all.
The album begins at the 2016 Met Gala, our teenage heroine draped in Valentino, and takes us to a quiet day in New Zealand five years later. Lorde is listening to the cicadas and dreaming of her future kids. She doesn’t have answers; only possibilities.
Indeed, throughout the 12-track pilgrimage, Lorde is thankfully more concerned with examination than sermon. The peculiar and earnest is where her songwriting truly shines, and “Solar Power” is buoyed by this skill. Lorde casually throws out observations that sound like notes taken by my therapist: “I thought I was a genius but now I’m 22,” “Little brother, I think you’re an angel,” “Remember all the hurt you would feel when you weren’t desired? Doing anything for more touch?”
You may be tempted to roll your eyes at a 24-year-old millionaire who tells you to sunbathe and smoke weed and reject the evils of an ever-online society to embrace your primal instincts. But Lorde constantly undercuts her own wisdom with fourth-wall breaks and self-aware eye rolls. She smirks at the pseudo-enlightened “Pluto in Scorpio generation” after donning a Scorpio-studded bomber jacket. She offers an aching contemplation on aging, only to interrupt herself with a stoner’s shrug. She paints a picture of utopia when she knows it doesn’t exist; she knows that fruitless make-believe can still feel healing.
I won’t pretend to fully understand or appreciate the nuances of this album after just a few spins (yes, I admit this review is based on more than one listen, and it sounds better with every replay). Lorde’s music is not the kind that plunges head-first down your throat. Its magic is far more subtle, the kind that grasps your hand in an unfamiliar land, leading you down new paths every day.
Of course, that’s not to say this album is not immediately rewarding. Don’t let the lack of a radio banger fool you. Like all the best pop, these 12 songs are bright, tactile, and deeply freeing. And like all the best music, they pulse with humanity.
Lorde has mastered the kind of music that just sounds good without sacrificing any of her precocious, keen-eyed lyricism. “Solar Power” is the timeless warmth and intimacy of a slumber party, whispering secrets to your best friends as the sun goes down. If your instinct is to describe it as plain or underwhelming, may I suggest sunbathing and smoking weed and embracing your primal instincts?
Larocca: It took more than four years for Lorde to release her third album, meaning her fans have had four years to build a colossal mountain of hype — resulting in an inevitable disappointment when the album she released wasn’t exactly as they imagined. And, I’ll admit, “Solar Power” isn’t what I imagined — but it’s the exact album she needed to make at this point. Anything else would have been disingenuous.
In the years since “Melodrama,” Lorde retreated back to her home country of New Zealand. It’s clear she’s taken the time to sit with her pain, her sadness, her existential vertigo, and emerged with a newfound emotional maturity.
“Solar Power” explores that very path, settling into a quiet acceptance that sometimes life’s simplicities are all we can focus on as we barrel toward an uncertain future. We take photos of our pets. We show up at nail salons after taking 10 milligrams of THC. We dance in living rooms and jump off cliffs, letting our partners and the ocean hold us until we need to come up for air.
This isn’t an album for the big moments of life, the heartaches, the teen angst. Instead, it folds itself into the cracks between. As the sun rises and the day begins, as the summer takes its flight, this is where this album shines brightest. In those transitory moments that make up the bulk of life, when you’re suspended in the middle of your past and future. It’s for being high at the beach, or driving down a backroad at sunset with the windows wide open. It’s for when you come to the realization that the only person who can save you is yourself.
Writer John Paul Brammer tweeted a hilarious observation about Lorde in July: “you don’t write Liability without being close friends with pain itself.” On “Solar Power,” Lorde reveals what happens when you become friends with pain — you eventually find something resembling peace.
Worth listening to:
“Stoned at the Nail Salon”
“Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)”
“The Man With the Axe”
“Leader of a New Regime”
*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for “Worth listening to,” .5 for “Background music,” .5 for “Split decision,” 0 for “Press skip”).