As summer draws to a close for students returning to Grand Valley State University this semester, it’s only beginning for singer/songwriter Lorde. Her third studio album, “Solar Power,” is born out of a fictitious land where worldly anxieties no longer exist, girls skip through sandy beaches together, and the biggest conflict is choosing which seashell to take home.
The Auckland native has spent the last four years out of the limelight following her sophomore effort, “Melodrama,” which was met with universal critical acclaim and is featured in “Rolling Stone’s” ‘500 Greatest Albums of all Time’ list.
Like Lorde, GVSU students have spent a considerable amount of time disconnected from campus, daydreaming of a similar utopia. Finally, welcome week is upon us, and “Solar Power” is a tuned down, self-aware reflection on modern times and is the perfect soundtrack for the optimistic yet chaotic return of campus life.
“Solar Power” is littered with satire and self-awareness, so littered in fact that it is difficult to decipher at times. “Mood Ring”, the third single off the album, exemplifies Lorde’s experimentation with satire best in my opinion: the airy vocal tracks pair well with lyrics about spirituality, astrology, crystals, and other holistic healing methods that have managed to become popularized more than ever over the two years.
The songwriter makes it clear that she isn’t referencing their use in the ancient societies that originated them, more so calling out their shallow trendiness by including other satirical phrases, like “love and light”, in multiple verses. I find that this satire falls flat on tracks like, “Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)”; which appears to sound sincere in its initial verses but concludes with an over-the-top spoken word section. Lorde’s inclusion of buzzwords/phrases like “welcome to sadness”, and “emotional baggage” lack the sincerity revealed moments earlier and establish a muddled tone.
The other main issue I have with “Solar Power” is its’ lack of sonic and vocal range. Every song aside from the album’s closer, “Oceanic Feeling”, rely heavily on either simple acoustic chords reminiscent of Jack Johnson’s earlier discography or low, reverb-heavy bass lines that could have been ripped off Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher” without question.
The former is on full display on the lead single, “Solar Power”, which reminded many of the cheap, overly optimistic songs on rotation in department stores. This sudden, stark difference in production and sonic direction led many fans to criticize producer Jack Antonoff, who has contributed to many similar-sounding records over the last year alone, including: Clairo’s “Sling,” Taylor Swift’s “Folklore,” and Lana Del Rey’s “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.”
Antonoff’s production has become so repetitive in fact, that many were quick to call out the melodic similarities between “Solar Power’s” second single, “Stoned at the Nail Salon”, and Lana Del Rey’s, “Wild at Heart”. While many were skeptical that Solar Power would follow suit, it was still a shock considering the grandiose, multi-layered production Lorde managed to pull off on “Melodrama” (which she conceptualized at only 20 years old).
While Lorde’s philosophical delves into para-social relationships and reflection of the last two years run deep, they’re unfortunately clouded by the confusing tone and underwhelming production of “Solar Power.”