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Review: Lorde returns with softer sound palette in ‘Solar Power’

Aug. 26, 2021 Updated Thu., Aug. 26, 2021 at 3:09 p.m.

By Julien A. Luebbers For The Spokesman-Review

Everybody knows Lorde, the breakout star of the late twenty-teens responsible for the iconic electro-pop hits “Royals,” “Team” and more, but her latest album might make you feel like you don’t.

For one thing, it’s just softer than her previous work. Lorde has always been able to draw back the composition (which can reach into amplified, vivacious beats and electro) to create immense contrast. On “Royals,” for example, her use of whitespace draws out the track’s attitude.

But on “Solar Power,” the sound has moved from contrast to somewhere relatively new. There’s a blurriness about the whole project, resulting in large part from the softer sound palette.

Take, for example, “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” backed by indistinct electric guitar that seems to have been blurred so that you have to focus to even hear the individual notes. It’s topical, of course, to the “stoned” of the track’s title. And in typical Lorde fashion, she modulates the intensity by backing her own vocals, and to great effect.

“Stoned at the Nail Salon” swells gently under Lorde’s voice. It’s very emotive, and yet faded, jaded. “Cause all the beautiful girls, they will fade like the roses,” she sings. “And all the times they will change, it’ll all come around / I don’t know / Maybe I’m just stoned at the nail salon.”

It’s one of the album’s best moments, the confluence of delicate playing and almost wall-of-sound vocals. She has found a different sort of contrast here than in her previous work.

Lyrically, “Solar Power” is more akin to 2017’s “Melodrama” than her debut “Pure Heroine.” The focus is interior and the content largely self-examining. There is much said about the impact of fame and a more adult look at how to live day-to-day.

The album opens with “The Path,” whose eerie wanderings and chord structures back a series of vivid images: “Arm in a cast at the museum Gala,” or “Now I’m alone on a windswept island / Caught in the complex divorce of the seasons.”

These set the stage for a couple of opening declarations: “If you’re looking for a savior / Well, that’s not me” and “I just hope the sun will show us the path.” Having vetted our intentions, she proceeds to the remainder of the album, following up with lead-off single “Solar Power,” whose scuffed guitar sounds and soft-spoken energy burst to the surface on the chorus.

Then “Stoned at the Nail Salon” reduces the sound to a calm, electro-dramatic mood. All is going well. But soon thereafter, the album runs into its one major issue: its lack of range.

It takes a few listens for any album to subdivide itself neatly into tracks, but for “Solar Power,” even after many runs through, most of these tracks are knotted and tied up in one another.

The reason for that is the parallel palettes employed across the album. There is a lot of the same: modified acoustic guitar, layered vocals and stuttering drum lines.

It’s a shame, too, because when she breaks the form, Lorde takes off. “Mood Ring,” for example – perhaps the album’s pop-iest track – is built on a shuffling guitar line filled to the brim by snappy, attitude-filled drums and multilayered vocals.

The lyrics outline a satirical take on the commercial and faux-spiritual cultures that people rely on: “I can’t feel a thing / I keep looking at my mood ring / Tell me how I’m feeling / Floating away, floating away,” she sings in an almost anaesthetized, synth-like voice. It’s a witty and vivid song and certainly a standout track.

Because of the uniform sound of most of the tracks, though, the album’s greatest difficulty is being played through in its entirety; the songs just start to wear you down.

But many of these songs are wonderfully written, lyrically engaging and characteristically Lorde. And, overall, there’s a lot to like about “Solar Power.” So, if you’re a fan of Lorde, it’s definitely worth the listen. Stream now anywhere you stream music.

Julien A. Luebbers can be reached at julien.luebbers@gmail.com.

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