The charming chaos of SOUR convincingly justifies Olivia Rodrigo's meteoric rise to superstardom.
You've either been living under a rock or on another planet if you haven't encountered the music of Olivia Rodrigo since January - just eight days into the year, the former Disney Channel star dropped what will undoubtedly go down as the biggest song of 2021, setting all time streaming records with one of the most dominant number one hit singles in modern chart history thanks to 'drivers license'. Within a week, Rodrigo's twisted suburban fairytale of love gone wrong had debuted at number one around the world, captivating audiences globally with an enchanting fusion of bedroom pop and power balladry, not to mention Rodrigo's heart wrenching delivery and poetic lyrical prose into the mix.
It was pretty easy to be skeptical about such a meteoric rise to stardom, but the arrival of 'deja vu' in April immediately dispelled any notions of a one hit wonder. Rodrigo capitalized on an already outrageous level of success by arguably topping her major label debut track with the wicked dream pop bliss of her spellbinding second single. Paying sublime homage to Olivia's most overt influence, 'deja vu' premiered a decidedly Swiftian piece of electropop that recalled the work of Taylor's 1989 in all the right ways. It's a record that all signs point to having definitively shaped Rodrigo as an artist, judging by her songwriting on these early breakout hits as well as this debut record in full.
And so, following two of the biggest (and best) singles of the year to date, Olivia Rodrigo formally arrives on SOUR. It's an album that follows the genre fluidity and emotional directness of its two behemoth lead singles, and while it never quite lives up to the dizzying heights of 'drivers license' and 'deja vu', there's more than enough magic in SOUR's angsty tales of teenage heartbreak to convince you that Olivia Rodrigo is set to continue her express path to world domination.
Through 11 tracks across 34 minutes, Rodrigo takes listeners on an unforgettable trip through the grieving cycle of a universally relatable time in a young person's life - the first break up. With its songwriter's wide ranging emotional honesty reflected in an eclectic backing soundtrack that finds a sound for each and every feeling Rodrigo traverses as she navigates the trauma of teenage heartbreak, SOUR is a journey that delivers nothing if not pure, unfiltered emotion from start to finish.
We're introduced to a ''relentlessly upset'' Rodrigo on explosive opener 'brutal' with its shocking emo punk power chords and gloriously angst ridden journal entries detailing a post relationship meltdown, before 'traitor' suddenly and skillfully switches to altpop on a resentful synth-laden bedroom ballad that paves the way for the sweeping majesty of 'drivers license'. The fist-clenching symphony of unrequited love sounds as anthemic and powerful here as it has since the beginning of the year, if perhaps even doubly so within the story of the album.
'1 step foward, 3 steps back' is the clearest tribute to Rodrigo's idol found on SOUR as the young singer swaps Taylor era's with a rework of reputation's poignant closing number that details the tormenting push and pull of a messy separation. The aforementioned 'deja vu' is a predictable show stealer amongst these eleven tracks, demonstrating the natural wit and charisma that the 18 year old possesses beyond her years on SOUR's bittersweet, cathartic centerpiece. Latest single 'good 4 u' is another furious, pop punk turn in the vein of 'brutal' but with a catchier radio-friendly hook that recalls equal parts Paramore and Avril Lavigne - it wraps up a thrilling A side with a punchy zeal that is sure to rock airwaves all summer long.
While it would be harsh to say that SOUR takes a nosedive from here, the truth is that the second half of the tracklist never quite manages to approach the quality of its better half. 'enough for you' and 'happier' sound suspiciously like they take their influence from a certain red haired English busker, and as such they make for the most generic and least interesting material on the record - though admittedly Rodrigo's actual possession of a personality saves either track from truly falling into the realms of soulless mediocrity that Ed Sheeran practices for a living. 'jealousy' goes back to the dark side but with diminishing results, dabbling in electro-trap production that recalls any number of Billie Eilish impersonations that unfortunately seem to be getting more popular by the minute.
Thankfully, 'favourite crime' brings SOUR back to life in its final moments with an introspective indie-folk turn leading into 'hope ur ok'. The understated stringed beauty of this worthy closing track is a conclusive moment of peace, reflection and reconciliation for Rodrigo, gracefully bringing SOUR's tale of heartbreak full circle while gifting listeners a warm and engaging sense of finality on a fittingly sweet final note.
It's a conclusion that's highly indicative of the maturity and intelligence consistently displayed throughout SOUR, the level of which far exceeds the norm for a songwriter at the tender age of eighteen. Comparisons to the biggest names in pop (as well as the obvious candidate of Swift, Lorde's prodigious presence abounds throughout these eleven tracks) are only natural on the basis of a half hour that operates with this degree of emotional depth and complexity, while simultaneously laying down melodies to match the grand scale of feeling this teenage odyssey transmits.
While she isn't there yet, everything about SOUR suggests that there is a potential Red, 1989 or even Melodrama in the future of Olivia Rodrigo. For now, much like Future Nostalgia belonged to 2020, SOUR looks set to be the inescapable album of 2021, and deservedly so for signaling the arrival of an instant superstar in the world of pop.
Eight days into the year, music audiences worldwide pumped their fists as the bridge kicked in and Rodrigo hit those red lights. It's only May, but don't be surprised come December to find yourself still singing along as Rodrigo drives alone down the street.
7.0 / B-
Best Tracks: 'brutal'/'drivers license'/'deja vu'/'good 4 u'
Like this? Try these:
thank u, next - Ariana Grande
Melodrama - Lorde
1989 - Taylor Swift
Enjoying Either/Or? If you like what you're reading then subscribe and support independent music journalism!