Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor was born in Auckland, New Zealand, the daughter of a poet and a civil engineer. She grew up immersed in poetry and literature. She built a profile through SoundCloud and talent shows, and in June 2013, her single ‘Royals’ topped the US charts. Aged 16, Lorde was only the second New Zealand act to achieve the feat, after one-hit wonder OMC’s ‘How Bizarre’ in 1997.
Lorde’s already gained a lot of attention – David Bowie labelled her as “the future of music”. She’s fronted Nirvana at their induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She also collated the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, and her song ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ is an early highlight. She’s refuted labels like spokesperson for her generation, but her middle class angst and her endearingly awkward dancing are part of her appeal.
Lorde has a specific set of talents – coming from a background of poetry, she’s primarily a lyricist, filling her songs with interesting imagery. She’s a captivating vocalist; like an actor, Lorde’s able to fill her charismatic voice with subtle feeling. Still young, hopefully Lorde’s best work is still ahead of her.
Lorde Album Reviews
Pure Heroine | Melodrama | Solar Power
Lorde’s debut album was recorded with Joel Little, formerly the leader of New Zealand pop punk band Goodnight Nurse. Lorde wasn’t the only person to kickstart their career with Pure Heroine; Little’s gone on to production work with Imagine Dragons and Taylor Swift. Little dresses Lorde’s songs in brooding electronic textures and minimal beats – it’s notable how many of these songs begin with Lorde’s voice, which is clearly the focal point. Pure Heroine doesn’t have much have much stylistic range, and the running time is sensibly kept to under 40 minutes,
As much as Lorde’s charisma is the main attraction on Pure Heroine, a few tracks stand out as more developed. The US number one hit ‘Royals’ opens with the evocative, nonsensical line “I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh. ‘Team’ features Lorde’s prettiest melody on the record, and the line “I’m kind of over gettin’ told to throw my hands up in the air”is a great synopsis of Lorde’s jaded teen persona. I enjoy the symmetry of Pure Heroine; the excellent ‘Tennis Court’ opens the album with the line “Don’t you you think it’s boring how people talk?”, while ‘A World Alone’ ends with a bored sounding Lorde repeating “people talk”.
Pure Heroine isn’t always musically enthralling, but Lorde’s detached, charismatic delivery has a magnetic presence.
Lorde’s followup to Pure Heroine chronicled four tumultuous years in her late teens, breaking up with her boyfriend of three years and indulging in heavy drinking. Eager to shake the spokesperson for the generation tags, Lorde was careful to use first person pronouns, and Melodrama is more personal album. Lorde’s main collaborator is Jack Antonoff, of Bleachers, who also produced Taylor Swift’s Reputation from the same year. Antonoff is able to diversify Lorde’s sound; lead off track ‘Green Light’ is much punchier than anything on her debut, while ‘Liability’ and ‘Writer in the Dark’ are stripped down to piano.
Although Melodrama is ostensibly a pop album, there’s art-rock in the mix as well – when Lorde uses her higher register in parts of ‘Writer in the Dark’, there are shades of Kate Bush. ‘Green Light’ features my favourite Lorde one-liner; “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar”. It’s a great pop song, with an explosive chorus, and Joel Little, producer on the first album has a writing credit along with Lorde and Antonoff. Lorde’s charming in ‘Homemade Dynamite’, with its references to “blowing shit up” and her number eight wire “pffft” sound effect.
Melodrama is a significant step forward for Lorde – aged only 20 at the time of its release, it will be fascinating to see what she does next.
Lorde scored a surprise US number one with ‘Royals’ in 2013, the only Kiwi artist to top the American charts. Third album Solar Power feels like a retreat from pop superstardom – it doesn’t boast any obvious pop hits, and Lorde’s stated that she doesn’t “even know really what the smashes are now”. Solar Power has taken a critical pasting compared to Lorde’s previous work – while it’s a step down from 2017’s Melodrama, it’s still enjoyable.
Lorde and Jack Antonoff, working remotely, concoct an album based around mellow grooves and acoustic guitar. It’s notable for the abundance of overqualified backing vocalists, including Robyn, Phoebe Bridgers, Clairo, and fellow New Zealanders Marlon Williams and Lawrence of Arabia. The pretty sun-kissed music is often lovely, but the lyrics sometimes feel like stoned ramblings – “I’ll tell you my secrets/I’m kinda like a prettier Jesus”.
Lorde’s also released an EP of songs from the album in Maori (the language of New Zealand’s indigenous people) titled Te Ao Mārama. I’ve heard most of it piped through the waiting room after my Covid-19 vaccination, and it almost works better in Maori since the lyrics are lightweight and the main attractions are Lorde’s vocals and the breezy summer music. Highlights include ‘Secrets of a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)’, with its propulsive acoustic guitar, and the gentle closer ‘Oceanic Feeling’.
Solar Power is an interesting diversion for Lorde, but it doesn’t entirely play to her strengths.
7 Best Lorde Songs
Yellow Flicker Beat
Secrets of a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)
Back to New Zealand album reviews…
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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