The amount of time that’s passed between Lorde’s last album (2017’s Melodrama) and now has felt so agonizingly long, it almost seems comparable to the classic meme of elderly Rose Dawson wearily reflecting on her long lost romance. Finally making her return Aug. 20, the 24-year-old alt-pop pioneer has arrived with Solar Power, a third record that’s so sunshine-y and warm, it could easily melt the billion-ton Titanic-sinking iceberg into nothing more than an emotional, contemplative puddle.
Lorde’s previous album Melodrama was a bold, intricate pop masterpiece, so beloved by many that when her first song in four years — the new album’s title track and lead single — came in the form of sun rays and beach waves, it was startling for some fans. Their desire for Lorde to deliver a work similar to her fluorescent, nighttime sophomore record is likely the reason some are saying that the pop star’s pivot to daylight is underwhelming or half-baked.
But in reality, Solar Power is an album that simply whispers instead of shouts, commanding you to listen closely and having nothing to offer you if you don’t. It’s sensitive, introspective and washed in watercolor pastels, at its best when paying respects to the neon era of Melodrama on songs like “Stoned at the Nail Salon,” “Fallen Fruit” and “Big Star,” in gentle lines that serve to say “Don’t worry, I still remember the magic and intensity of our younger days. The softness you’re listening to now is just growth.”
Below, Billboard ranks every track on Lorde’s third album:
“Dominoes” is a pretty little song, it’s just not the one you go back to again and again after hearing it for the first time. Recorded at Electric Lady Studios with the doors open, one cool feature of this track is that some of the ambient noises from outside fill up the background. “You can hear a lot of sirens because there were a ton of protests that summer,” she wrote for Spotify. “I like that it sounds like how that summer sounded.”
11. “Leader of a New Regime”
This track is a quick, just slightly confusing break from the world where most of the other songs on Solar Power take place. Lorde harmonizes with herself in stacked, crackling vocal lines — now a certified hallmark of her music — as she fantasizes about being a pop star in a post-apocalyptic society where most of the earth’s environment is unlivable.
10. Solar Power
“Solar Power” makes a lot more sense now that it’s grounded by the added dimensions of all the other songs on the album. Even though its slightly shallow sound is always a little at risk of fading into the background, Solar Power‘s lead single serves as a fun, nourishing look into the emotional high points of the album.
9. “Mood Ring”
This track’s release three days prior to the album sparked heavy conversation amongst critics as to whether or not Lorde had actually achieved the satire she was striving for — as she explained on various platforms that she had aimed to portray a wellness culture-obsessed character who leans into phony habits in order to cope with the gritty struggles of the modern world.
Some thought she missed the mark, but this particular writer thinks her approach is comparable to the one she employed on Pure Heroine track “Buzzcut Season,” in which she wrote from the perspective of teenagers finding it impossible to engage with real-world issues from their suffocating-but-comfortable poolside lifestyle. She wasn’t going for pointed social commentary, but simply observing how easy it can be for people — herself included — to fall into the mental traps offered by comfort.
8. “The Path”
“The Path” is a nice opener for this album, and answers some of the questions opened up by “Solar Power” when it was first released. Is “moody” Lorde gone? No. Is Lorde in her happy era now? Sort of. This song clarifies the point in her life — an overwhelmed young pop star — at which she began the emotional growth journey explored throughout the album.
This track gets to the heart of the album’s origins — it all started when she realized she needed to disappear from the spotlight for a while. Comparing her on again off again relationship with fame to a romance, Lorde asserts she “don’t want that California love” over fittingly Western-sounding drums and guitar. The opening lines skillfully set the scene of her accepting her song of the year Grammy from Carole King in 2014, which she pinpoints as the moment she knew things would never be the same.
6. “Oceanic Feeling”
“Oceanic Feeling” is a wondrous celebration of life, a perfect closer for this album because it doesn’t feign its optimism or its reverence for the topics it veers into. It feels like a glorious, thousand-year-old tree with branches spanning the beauty of family, growth, water and oxygen. “I like that the album is bookended by two songs written solely by me,” Lorde wrote for Spotify’s “Storyline” feature. “This song is about New Zealand, my family, the past, the future.”
5. “The Man With the Axe”
The only distinguishable romance song on the album, “The Man with the Axe” is a slightly drowsy but alluring ode to her lover, with lines like “your office job, and your silver hair” implying the subject is her boyfriend Justin Warren, an executive at Universal Music. It wouldn’t be a true Lorde love song though without her pondering her own self-actualization as it relates to her relationship, which she does on this track by saying “I thought I was a genius, but now I’m 22 and it’s startin’ to feel like all I know how to do is put on a suit and take it away.”
4. “Big Star”
This hazy song filled with sweet, childlike lyrics was inspired by Lorde’s dog Pearl, who passed away. It finds Lorde taking a beautiful, earnest moment to connect to her long gone youth, even heavily referencing Melodrama with lines like “I used to love the party now I’m not alright” and “every perfect summer’s gotta take its flight.”
3. “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)”
The clever lyrics and musical approach are what make this song special. It’s basked in divine feminine energy and offers up pieces of advice on growing up, which, combined with the fact that Lorde took chords from “Ribs” and reversed them, makes “Secrets From a Girl” the fan-worshipped Pure Heroine track’s big sister. Robyn makes an intriguing cameo, playing the part of a flight attendant welcoming passengers to “Sadness” and dropping the brilliant line, “Your emotional baggage can be picked up at carousel number two, please be careful so it doesn’t fall onto someone you love.”
2. “Fallen Fruit”
“Fallen Fruit” is an immediate standout, cradled by a lush garden of instruments hollowed out in the middle by the singular appearance of Lorde’s once-cherished 808 drums on the album. It’ll take several listens before you can come to a conclusion on what it’s really about, but something about this song makes you feel held and understood before you even understand it — an ambiguous quality that has always been present in Lorde’s best songs.
1. “Stoned at the Nail Salon”
This beautiful, reflective track is Solar Power‘s “Landslide.” It never gets old because that scary feeling of time slipping away never stops being relatable. This is something Lorde has understood since “Ribs,” meaning old and new fans alike can connect to the poetic prowess of “Stoned at the Nail Salon.”