Remember how huge “Royals” was? I do. It was kind of a big deal when I was in high school. And in spite of how much I like that song alone, its performer, Lorde, fleshed out the rest of her debut album with an approach that led many critics and fellow musicians to herald her as “the future of pop music.” Now, I don’t know about that, but I do know that the New Zealander, who was only 16 at the time of “Royals’” meteoric success, is one of the foremost practitioners of pop music today. And that’s an interesting acknowledgement, considering she has only put out three albums over the course of eight years. But Lorde looms large, as the anticipation for her third record, SOLAR POWER, indicates; it is the impetus for this brief piece reviewing her career so far. Not included in this ranked list of Lorde’s full-fledged records are her first release, the EP THE LOVE CLUB (2012, although it contains my favorite Lorde song, “Million Dollar Bills”), nor the soundtrack for THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 (2014), which Lorde “curated” and contributed to with the big single “Yellow Flicker Beat.”
#3 — SOLAR POWER (2021)
Favorite track: “Mood Ring”
I can start off this list by acknowledging that its progression is pretty straightforward. Lorde’s latest, SOLAR POWER is a departure from MELODRAMA in the same way MELODRAMA was a departure from PURE HEROINE, and for that, I have to commend the singer. She teamed up with producer Jack Antonoff, who just seems to be everywhere these days, to make what Lorde has termed her “weed album.” Lorde has always been praised for her deep, angsty lyrics and accompanying vocal delivery, which certainly does seem to come out of someone who has to be at least a decade older. And while SOLAR POWER does contain some of what defines her previous two albums, the singer definitely penned more upbeat and whimsical lyrics and music to accompany a higher register. Besides literally evoking it in the lyrics, “Mood Ring” acknowledges the sound of early 2000s pop, and the whole of SOLAR POWER feels like an ode to music in the vein of, say, Sheryl Crow, Vanessa Carlton, or other female singer-songwriters from the period. It’s a vibe I can get behind, and indeed, the record is an enjoyable listen. If it sinks to “last place” here, it’s because SOLAR POWER ends up feeling same-y, the less impressive flipside of “cohesion.” The record is laid-back and fun, but its mellow soundscape at times drifts into malaise rather than exciting, or even just plain groovy, pop music.
#2 — MELODRAMA (2017)
Favorite track: “Sober”
Lorde has taken four years to make each album since PURE HEROINE, and after the huge success of her debut, MELODRAMA was just as anticipated as SOLAR POWER. Indeed, I’ve found that a lot of people think MELODRAMA is her best record. It was also a marked departure from the instincts on its predecessor, which has been described as minimalist; MELODRAMA, on the other hand, embodies a maximalist approach. That’s a distinction from “overproduced,” however, because the Antonoff-aided sound is lush and enveloping as opposed to blaring and annoying. “Sober” is a great, slinky track that encompasses what I’m talking about. It’s got a bit more going on rhythmically and in its peripheral sounds, but it’s not like it’s a symphonic movement compared to the work on PURE HEROINE. As strong as MELODRAMA is, though, it just doesn’t have quite the number of standout tracks that I’d like, even as the album-length experience impresses with its cohesion, rather than malaise.
#1 — PURE HEROINE (2013)
Favorite track: “Royals”
Listening to “Royals” and its source album, PURE HEROINE, with a more critical ear than I ever have applied to Lorde, I am profoundly impressed by how solid and confident her pop music was. As others and I have already said, the voice coming out of that singer belied her 16 years of age, and PURE HEROINE’s overarching themes, at least lyrically, are salient and potent beyond her years. And the actual music, co-written and produced by Joel Little, match, with sparse drums and synths allowing Lorde’s voice to shine. It’s hard to not fall into the language of the critical consensus on PURE HEROINE, especially in regards to Lorde’s age at the time, but only because much of what is said about it is true. It’s as fun as it is intellectually stimulating, a pop record that embodies the best the genre could be at the time. And PURE HEROINE still stands as an album worth considering in conversation about the best Top 40-style music provided to us throughout the 2010s and beyond.