song review

Lorde Has Risen But Only Halfway

Welcome back? Photo: Youtube

Has any pop star in recent times ghosted us as effectively as Lorde? Since the tour for the New Zealand native singer-songwriter’s brilliant 2017 album, Melodrama, wrapped in late 2018, it’s been touch and go. We’d get an update, and we’d get six months of silence. We heard that work on a third album had begun, and we heard that it was put on hold as she mourned the loss of her dog Pearl, then we heard that music was in the works again and going so well, that, to use her delightfully vague phrasing, “a thing started to take shape.” Sometimes she would drop a pin, doing appearances in Auckland and popping up in Antarctica, leaving the kind of sporadic and spaced-out tracks you only leave when you don’t want to be found. More than anyone else in her line of work, Lorde got and stayed out of dodge when last era wrapped. (Beyoncé updates leave us more concrete specifics, and we rarely know where she’s been until days, even weeks, later.) This makes a kind of sense for Lorde. She was, until Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo came along, one of our youngest A-list pop stars. (The last time Lorde dropped an album, we didn’t know about Billie or Olivia yet!) She deserved the space, the time away from ogling bystanders and demanding audiences, the time to nurture the craft that made her world-famous at 17. One hopes she has used it well.

The break is over. With the abrupt announcement and subsequent messy leak/release of “Solar Power,” Lorde is back, seemingly well-rested, and singing of the virtues of disappearing off the grid and putting yourself first. Phones are whiffed into open water, and plans are canceled. “Can you reach me,” she coos before a chorus. “No, you can’t!” “Solar Power” is a song about the healing virtues of the quiet beach life. (The video looks like The Beach, that Danny Boyle–directed Leonardo DiCaprio movie you haven’t thought about in years about the people who live happily on a beachside commune until … things happen.) The song is peppy if familiar, a hodgepodge of the start-stop acoustic guitar rhythm of George Michael’s “Faith” and the psychedelic dance-rock of early-’90s U.K. rave kings like Happy Mondays and Primal Scream. It has a good heart and good taste, “Solar Power.” It’s slight and fun but almost feels more like a carefree vacation update than the blockbuster comeback we’ve been anticipating since the simpler times.

Will this leapfrog its way up song-of-the-summer rankings? Will conservatives who now love harassing pop stars complain about a singer called “Lorde” claiming that she is prettier than Jesus? Did the estate of George Michael get cut in on the publishing? Does Jack Antonoff ever sleep? Has Lorde been gone long enough for the conventions of her sound — the mouth-intensive ASMR voicings and the slippery amalgamation of modern pop and classic singer-songwriter vibes that made the last album an instant classic — to filter down through a new class of pop star that’s willing to be present in ways she doesn’t seem interested in? How long do we have before she makes us cry again? As per usual, Lorde leaves us more questions than answers.

Lorde Has Risen But Only Halfway