Lorde
Solar Power


3.5
great

Review

by notkanyewest USER (7 Reviews)
August 30th, 2021 | 19 replies


Release Date: 08/20/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Lorde, On The Beach

My favorite bit of 2021 music writing, so far, is by Larry Fitzmaurice, written for his newsletter and discussing “Pop’s New Emotionalism”. To make a long story short, Fitzmaurice argues that “more than any other point in the last twenty years, the many levels of visible artists that make up pop music in 2021 are awash in the language of trauma, pain, and healing”. He then traces this trend back to what he believes are its modern roots in Frank Ocean’s 2016 album Blonde and its explosion in the pop world the following year, but you can read the piece yourself if you’re interested in that. Fitzmaurice, however, near the end of the piece, discusses the reception of the first couple Lorde singles (the full album had not yet been released at the time he wrote the piece) describing it as “a collective reaction that can only be described as turning one’s back on the contemplative contentment the songs reflect.”

Now that Solar Power has been out in the world for a bit, I’d go a step further and posit that its near-universal rejection marks the beginning of the end for “Pop’s New Emotionalism” in the way Fitzmaurice describes it, or, at least, the moment where the critical and commercial public draws its line in the sand concerning how much they’re willing to take. Or maybe the line in the sand had already been drawn, and we’re just crossing it for the last time. Fitzmaurice compares the reception of Solar Power to that of Taylor Swift’s Reputation, and I think the two share a similar template. Pop star follows up populist-leaning-but-also-critical darling record (for Swift 1989, for Lorde Melodrama) with one that takes a more self-mythologizing bent and combines it with a fairly radical sonic departure, also picks a really weird first single: backlash perhaps not unexpected.

But there’s something else to the Solar Power reception I can’t quite put my finger on, a fairly hostile reaction to the album’s whole “vibe” that seems specific to, for lack of a better phrase, “these times”. Like, I feel pretty confident that if this record had quickly followed up Melodrama back in 2018, it would have been positively, albeit maybe not rapturously, received as “the self-growth bops we didn’t know we needed” or some ***. What’s especially odd to me is the seemingly standard critical line that O’Connor (I’ll use Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s last name interchangeably with “Lorde” from here on out) is coming off as sanctimonious or smug on Solar Power, a rich white twentysomething lecturing us about her self improvement. Frankly, I’d say that’s more the audience’s problem than O’Connor’s. Melodrama (which, to be candid, I didn’t like nearly as much as most) was a rich white teen regaling us about her late-teen angst, many just happened to find the experiences and feelings she was talking about to be universally applicable. Ostensibly, most of those same people have also hit their mid-20’s and tried to start drinking less or taken up meditation or a regimen of SSRI’s or dropped acid and communed with nature in an attempt at self-actualization. It’s just a lot less romantic and more esoteric of an experience to try and connect with—kind of in tune with the adage that your dreams are always less interesting to other people than they are to you. I also think there’s something to be said for how a change in our parasocial relationships to big celebrities post-COVID (thinking of Gal Godot’s monstrous “Imagine” video specifically) might factor into all of this, but I’ll never get to why I like the album if I keep going on about that.

I keep returning to Solar Power because, setting the idealistic title track aside, I find the overall vibe here is more one of “searching for self-contentment” as opposed to “basking in self-contentment”, the searching being materially different and markedly more interesting. Getting older is a theme that pops up again and again on these songs, and on “The Man With the Axe” O’Connor mopes “I guess I’ll always be this way/swallowed up by the words and halfway to space”. Later, with the aid of psychedelics on “Fallen Fruit”, she wrestles with climate change and the resulting Big Questions: “How am I supposed to love what I know I am going to lose?” Lorde clearly is wrestling with what being a Pop Star means these days, too—on “The Path”, she beseeches the listener, “If you’re looking for a savior/well, that’s not me”. Later, on “Leader of a New Regime” she openly fantasizes about someone taking her place.

I get it, that paragraph isn’t going to convert a Solar Power hater into thinking all of this is especially novel. But I think about early last summer, during the height of American COVID-lockdowns, when I got really into Neil Young’s On the Beach. There’s some surface-level DNA shared with this: the preoccupation with the environment, a harkening back to “the old folky days”, the beachy album covers, of course. But more crucially, I remember telling my Young superfan friend that I was getting into On the Beach and having him, in a positive way, describe the record as “narcotized”. I think there’s a place for that in pop music: sedate, contemplative songs that choose to look inward as opposed to explicitly reaching a hand out to the listener with more explosively emotional lyricism.

The music of Solar Power is definitely narcotized. I’ll admit it takes a few listens to get past the initial layers of muted guitar and breezy, vaguely breakbeaty drums. But I find more interesting sonic tidbits to latch onto the more I dive in: the eerie vocal harmonies on “California”, the weird flute on “Fallen Fruit”, the fact that O’Connor’s dunks on some middleaged cokehead-turned-quasi-spiritual-dude on “Dominoes'' are surrounded by a plucky guitar riff that directly recalls Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again”. And it’s never going to hit the Billboard Hot 100, but the deep-cut “Big Star” is one of Lorde’s most alluring love songs, although I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the whole “no baby, YOU’RE the actual celebrity” conceit (see also Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”).

I’m not going to pretend everything works. “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)” has the gall to pretend it's vaguely YA platitudes are revelatory material, although ironically, it’s maybe the most universal song here—when you’re 24 it’s easy to delude yourself into thinking the fact that you no longer wake up hungover every day is a sign of real adult progress. That Robyn bit that concludes the song is sickeningly saccharine, too (I just bring it up to point out that her “Dancing On My Own” is a spiritual forebear to the “pop emotionalism” discussed earlier). And “Mood Ring”, while its lyrical mechanism of a young rich girl trying to fill her emotionally empty inside with various wellness trends is conceptually interesting, ends up dulling O’Connor’s formidable authorial capabilities with a patina of flimsy satire.

But I think there’s more depth here than most reviews are giving credit for, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some reevaluation down the line. O’Connor could easily end the album closer “Oceanic Feeling” with her declaration that “I just had to breathe out and tune in”. But in a coda she undercuts herself, asking “Oh, was enlightenment found? No” and staring at a beach pyre, fantasizing about self-immolation. She’s realized that once the fire of your teens burns out, the work begins of sifting through the ashes and figuring out through what remains.



Recent reviews by this author
dltzk FrailtyPinkPantheress To Hell With It
Bo Burnham Inside (The Songs)Home Is Where I Became Birds
Japandroids Massey Fucking HallThe Shins Chutes Too Narrow
user ratings (258)
2.5
average
other reviews of this album
Sowing STAFF (2.5)
Lorde's sophomore slump arrives one album late...



Comments:Add a Comment 
notkanyewest
August 30th 2021


225 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Fitzmaurice's piece: https://last-donut-of-the-night.letterdrop.com/p/31-thoughts-on-2017-frank-ocean-lil-peep-lorde-and-pops-new-emotionalism



Too long and too academic, but I wanted to write this and it was gonna just die on the vine if I didn't post it here.

Kompys2000
Staff Reviewer
August 30th 2021


7053 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Great review, agreed hard that the self-satisfiedness of this album has been oversold somewhat. There's definitely some amount of depth here, but it just doesn't strike me as particularly interesting or noteworthy depth... idk that could just be because I find it so musically anemic

Digging: Moon Tooth - Phototroph

Romulus
August 31st 2021


9050 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

reiterating that you are very possibly the best writer on this site

Cormano
August 31st 2021


3395 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This has the depth of a puddle, doesn't help that the musicianship on the back half is so insipid



Dominoes has got to be the worst song she's ever made

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2021


46386 Comments

Album Rating: 2.2

yeah phenomenal review. you have a real knack for making me want to listen to albums I hate again (I mean that as a compliment). great analysis

Winesburgohio
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2021


3418 Comments

Album Rating: 0.5 | Sound Off

sterling review holy shit

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2021


47648 Comments

Album Rating: 2.3 | Sound Off

things: this is a rly great review fkin-A

thoughts:

Melodrama [...] was a rich white teen regaling us about her late-teen angst, many just happened to find the experiences and feelings she was talking about to be universally applicable

your point on it being a steep double-standard to give that album a free pass for emotional/psychological self-indulgence is a salient one, but i'm not quite convinced by the logic in that second clause - whether or not the subject matter in question is rly universally applicable is surely moot compared to the gross heartbreak hordes who did relate to it

I find the overall vibe here is more one of “searching for self-contentment” as opposed to “basking in self-contentment”, the searching being materially different and markedly more interesting"

i think your nuance here makes an accurate distinction, but i'd raise you one and say the verb this needs [for me] is doubting. if lorde is searching here, she makes every effort to emphasise her uncertainty of happening upon anything of real substance ​(as per your reference to the last lines), and as many have pointed out elsewhere, her rejection of the obvious pitfalls of celebrity self-awareness is not the most convincing substitute for this. you do a fantastic job at making her currents of thought seem intriguing, but to me they smack of listlessness to the point where i can see why they've been confused for a lack of depth.

i think she's at her most compelling lyrically where she fills up her self-pondering quicksand with concrete characters (her beau on Man With the Axe, her projected unborn daughter surrogate-self on Oceanic Feeling, maybe maybe maybe the parodyman addressed on Dominoes), but these are hardly an overall focus, and i'd don't feel that lorde's own self-focusing is focused enough to work as a f-focus. or what have you.

i mainly dislike this album for its music and don't have much investment in its platform or lyricism either way (certainly not to the point of pooh-poohing your take just because i disagree with it; you have clearly approached the record with considerably more patience and thoughtfulness than me, or most people i imagine); would mainly like to hear more of your thoughts (on this) than dispute them any further

Was this Review Well Written? Yes | No

Digging: Dream Dolphin - Dolphins Talk to You

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2021


2005 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Take this warm, steaming pos ya big lug. Great review, especially for one that's raising a shield to the volley of hate thrown this album's way. One day I'll listen to it

Lurch
August 31st 2021


8 Comments


Excellent review, really enjoyed your perspective on this

notkanyewest
August 31st 2021


225 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

your point on it being a steep double-standard to give that album a free pass for emotional/psychological self-indulgence is a salient one, but i'm not quite convinced by the logic in that second clause - whether or not the subject matter in question is rly universally applicable is surely moot compared to the gross heartbreak hordes who did relate to it



-Yeah, you're def right that the proof is in the pudding to some extent and that thought actually crossed my mind when I was writing that graf. I do think my later point still stands that people are much more willing to go along with self-indulgence w/r/t heartbreak, maybe because it's a humbling experience and seems less tainted by wealth/celebrity



she makes every effort to emphasise her uncertainty of happening upon anything of real substance... as many have pointed out elsewhere, her rejection of the obvious pitfalls of celebrity self-awareness is not the most convincing substitute for this



-I guess what I would say is I find that push/pull more interesting than most, and I think most people have gotten blinded by the more surface level celebrity stuff when to me there's clearly something more existential at play, especially when you consider the motif of climate change that seems to pop up over and over. Once again I think the overall tone/album's presentation is important in how people are viewing the "rejecting celeb" stuff because Billie Eilish's new one deals with a lot of the same stuff but people seem to like it more. Not to say "Leaving LA" is ultimately super sympathetic to the average person but I wonder if "California" had been the lead single it would have shifted the idea of what the album was trying to accomplish a bit more.

notkanyewest
August 31st 2021


225 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Appreciate the posi feedback on this! Knew it was a bit niche but pleasantly surprised to see are getting something out of my take (thought I was gonna get 2 comments that said "nah this album sucks" and that would be the end of it)

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
August 31st 2021


2005 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Write more my g, we love you xx

mvdu
September 1st 2021


973 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fabulous review. You explained what I think so well - that this is more than a simple and breezy album. It is nuanced in a way that still showcases Lorde’s talents. Admittedly some won’t take to it - it is an album sure to get difference in opinions.

Transient
September 1st 2021


1515 Comments


reiterating that you are very possibly the best writer on this site


very much this

Odal
September 1st 2021


974 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

This review really kicks ass, even if I think the album is worse than your rating. Pos'd

ChaoticVortex
September 2nd 2021


1306 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

Always love to read a well-written, passionate defense of albums that are largely panned by most. Pos'd.

Sowing
Moderator
September 10th 2021


40985 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Excellent review. I'm glad this got such a strong counterpoint/defense.

Digging: Zach Bryan - American Heartbreak

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
September 10th 2021


3818 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Review is awesome, very well-argued as well as well-written. Can't say I agree with the premise, but will be interesting to see if the overall reception to this one improves over the years or not.

nilsson
September 25th 2021


81 Comments


reiterating that you are very possibly the best writer on this site [3]



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





FAQ // STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2019 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy