Lorde’s long–awaited third studio album, Solar Power, is a patient record. No matter how many polarizing think pieces (including this one) try to tear it down, it's built to be tough and permanent like a castle. Except its castle is made of sand, and it’s surrounded by the crashing of beach waves and the clicking of cicadas.
This isn’t Melodrama 2.0, nor should it be. Its goals are entirely different. It’s Ella Marija Lani Yelich–O’Connor’s summation of New Zealand—her home and personal oasis from the perpetual hustle and bustle of the modern world.
Solar Power is a small island where she is our sort of “cult leader” (her words). The synths, and ecstasy, and teen angst that marked her past releases are replaced with warm, bright swashes of acoustic guitar and the kind of calm maturity that one gains from being in the public eye. She’s not our savior; she even admits it herself on the haunting opener. But she has quiet, valuable wisdom to offer to those who will listen.
“Oceanic Feeling” is the closest to any of the grandiose statements about being young and anxious from Melodrama. The longest track on the album, clocking in at six minutes, it's a treatise of where Yelich–O’Connor is at the moment. She ruminates on her past and her future, contemplating if she will ever have a daughter, as she muses about her father and the ocean licking her feet in the yellow Kiwi sands. Similarly, “Hold No Grudge,” which is arguably one of the best songs on Solar Power, despite it not even being on the standard streaming edition, sees the young pop star give up her resentment in favor of a wise bliss. Solar Power has a warranted lack of care from the girl who once made it a point of how much she cared.
Though Yelich–O’Connor's advice to the world is sprinkled here and there on the record, it’s most plainly evident in the standout track “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)” (which has a surprise feature from Robyn) and the promotional single, “Stoned At the Nail Salon.” The former is like a to–do list to live your best life (“Everybody wants the best for you / but you’ve gotta want it for yourself”), while the latter is a fragile yet strangely frightening reminder of the importance of life’s little moments (“Spend all the evenings you can with people who raised you”). Both songs reflect Yelich–O’Connor’s simultaneous rejection and acceptance of her role as an idol to the current generation of young people.
But “Stoned At the Nail Salon,” while still a solid song in its own right, merits some of the critiques lobbied against it. Fans online noticed how similar the instrumental was to frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff’s previous work for fellow alt–pop icon Lana Del Rey. Yelich–O’Connor has directly spoken out against this “sexist” claim, yet she has still been unfairly lumped with artists like Del Rey simply for collaborating with Antonoff, another “mare in [his] stable.” This review would be dishonest if it did not mention my own piece on the controversial producer, in which I (half–satirically) attacked the man for his work with his close circle of women pop stars. In retrospect, I think I misjudged Antonoff as some sort of musical menace à la Phil Spector. The reality is that he simply digs deep into what he loves.
The past four years have been eventful for Yelich–O’Connor. She lost her dog, Pearl, to whom fan–favorite “Big Star” is dedicated. She toured Antarctica and published a book about her adventures there. She had a “bad acid trip” and decided her new record was instead “one of [her] great weed albums.” Yes, she spent her days getting high by the beach. What else would you do if you were one of the biggest names working in the pop music industry with two monumentally influential albums to your name? The sane thing would be to get your life together and get away from the glory and gore. Yelich–O’Connor, although she appears to be online while on promotion for this album, has made it abundantly clear that she would rather “throw [her] cellular device in the water.” Can you reach her? No, you can’t.
Fame is intoxicating. Compare the former pop prodigy, who has followed the sun as her source of inspiration, to someone like Kanye West, who generates controversy for controversy’s sake at seemingly any chance he can get. Lorde cultivates interest in herself and her brand with calm deliberation. Solar Power isn’t an album you can easily throw away. Its truths, while sometimes oblique at first glance, are wrought with care by a celebrity who doesn’t want to waste your time with cheap PR stunts. It’s a patient record, but only if you are willing to be patient yourself.