You know when people claim that an album is the “perfect” one for our times, or something of the sort? Well, Lorde’s Solar Power is the polar opposite of that. It ignores everything that’s been going on in the world for the last 2 years and focuses on a young millionaire’s retreat from the spotlight into a happy world of New Zealand and California beaches, sunbathing, and getting stoned in nail salons.
It’s the sort of album that probably could only have come from an artist who’d spent the pandemic in New Zealand, a relatively Covid-free haven compared to the rest of the world, sunning it up and not having to remotely worry about her financial situation. Of course, New Zealand deserved their Covid-free haven, because they had sensible leadership that dealt with the threat in a sensible way that limited its threat in a way that seems unimaginable to those of us living in countries like the US and the UK (though they are now starting to struggle with a wave of the Delta variant). And Lorde deserves her material wealth, which has come on the back of hard work and genuine talent, and there’s no reason why we should begrudge her for it.
But still, listening to Solar Power mostly causes irritation. What meaning does her retreat from the world have for the rest of us who’ve had to deal with the traumas of the pandemic and its devastating impact on our psychological, physical and financial wellbeing?
She needed great songwriting and hooks to make us care, which Solar Power doesn’t have. Its summery lowkey production is too breezy by far, based on aimless, melody-free fragments of electronic effects and lackadaisically strummed acoustic guitar. Songs come and go without event, without any clear reason for us to stop and pay attention to them, and when you do stop and pay attention they don’t reveal any hidden layers. A few bits are pleasant, such as the multitracked vocals on “Leader of a New Regime.” Some are even very pleasant, such as the George Michael and Primal Scream-indebted chorus to “Solar Power.” But the world would not have missed out on much if they’d never been released. The accumulated fragments of pleasantry don’t provide enough reason to really care about the album, or Lorde’s latest iteration of her burgeoning musical personality.
In fact, “Stoned at the Nail Salon” is the most self-aware song on the album, finishing every chorus as it does with “I don’t know/Maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon.” That “I don’t know” sums up the shrugged-off feel of the album, its ambivalence and lack of a reason to care about it. And the reference to being stoned is evocative of the album’s effect, which is very much like listening to a stoned person singing and playing guitar at a beach party: not unpleasant, and reasonably good as background noise whilst doing more diverting stuff, but certainly not worth paying attention to and nowhere near as fun for anyone else as it is for the singer.
There was potential in Solar Power’s concept: we all know that solar power is what is needed to rescue us from climate change apocalypse, and that’s a powerful metaphor for what we all need to change ourselves and the world around us for the better. But in the midst of one of the worst global disasters of the last hundred years, and with an even greater one looming in the climate crisis, Solar Power is too laissez-faire to take on any further significance than just representing a rich person’s retreat from reality and enjoying herself whilst the world burns around her. Lorde knows we all need fun in the world, even whilst it burns, in order to give us reason and motivation to fight for the world’s survival. But the blinkered, deliberate ignorance of Solar Power is depressing, enervating, tedious even, and very hard to enjoy.
If there was only a song or two to match the genius of past offerings such as “Royals” and “Green Light,” then perhaps all would be forgiven. But there isn’t, and so Solar Power is genuinely disposable pop; unlike Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever which is a tougher, much more fully realized album about being a successful young pop star and striving for happiness. Get lost in Eilish’s album instead, for there’s really no need to return to Solar Power.