As a pop artist, Lorde’s affinity for darker sentiments effuses her discography with an unapologetic seriousness — so it’s unsurprising that her new song “Sober” is an existential one. Much like her previous release — “Perfect Places” — the single disturbs the romanticism of heavy partying, noting a possible theme for her forthcoming sophomore album (to be released on June 16).
While “Sober” is not thematically dissimilar to many current radio tunes — it centers on intoxication, love and sex — Lorde characteristically strays from the typical flamboyant, empty takeaway, settling instead on a warning similarly unconventional to that of Sia’s hit “Chandelier,” which discusses the impermanence in the sense of immutable indestructibility that goes along with drinking
Encapsulated by lyrics that stand just shy of irritating self-righteousness is an interrogation of the elusive satisfaction in being sloshed all the time. Lorde floats back and forth between drunken attraction — “But my hips have missed your hips / So, let’s get to know the kicks / Will you sway with me? / Go astray with me?” — and the inescapable sinking disappointment that accompanies taking note of logical reality — “But what will we do when we’re sober?”
Lorde buries the heart of her contemplative confliction in the middle of the sonically distracted chorus, one that’s pinned down by thumping drums and sharp, punctuated bursts of brass, all of which give the track a rushing forward momentum. Instead of reaching a straightforward opinion or imparting definitive advice — for instance, preaching headaches and regret, or conversely a freewheeling disregard for consequences — she only shares a contradiction she’s noticed between what we tell ourselves and what we actually feel at the end of the night. There’s a discrepancy between how much we care and how much we want to care, that we are immersing ourselves in ephemeral feelings.
“Sober” is an understated song. In building to an observation rather than an assessment, Lorde places the burden of extracting conclusive meaning on the listener, and maybe not every listener will — that’s the beauty of not forcing ubiquitous lyrical comprehension.
It takes restraint to do this, to create a song with all the instrumental indicators of pop — a driving bassline, thick synths, a danceable melody — but without the lyrical certainty that boxes songs into a predefined meaning so typical of the genre.
If anything, “Sober” is another good example of Lorde’s unwillingness to oversimplify her ideas in a sphere of popular music that does exactly that.
Olivia Jerram covers music. Contact her at [email protected].