With Sour coming less than six months after the meteoric chart success of Drivers License, Olivia Rodrigo’s first-ever major LP release refutes what naysayers have (prematurely) been stating – that she is a one-hit wonder.
Brutal is perhaps one of the most remarkable opening tracks in recent pop history, teenage angst is ever-pounding on the track’s angry guitar riffs. The song sees Rodrigo reject the romanticized idea of teenage hood being perceived as the “golden years” of life. It addresses themes ranging from rejection to insecurities (“I can’t even parallel park” is perhaps the ultimate relatable lyric), with a punk-rock infused production reminiscent of early 00s Avril Lavigne.
Traitor opens with a schoolyard choir of angelic Rodrigo adlibs. The track discusses the possibility of Rodrigo’s ex boyfriend potentially having an emotional affair before their breakup and carries one of the strongest choruses on the album, both in terms of vocal delivery and melody (expressive and marked by the multiple hooks). The bridge is ethereal in nature, highlighting the heartbreak anthem with muffled, echoing drums that add to the sombre mood.
Drivers License is already the new age alt-pop classic. On it, the suburban landscape is the main songwriting element through which Olivia expresses her heartbreak; the symbolic graveyard of romance past. The song quite simply has the best pre-chorus if you’re looking to scream your heart out to one, jam-packed with a large roster of emotional declarations. It also includes one of the best-written bridges of recent mainstream music history, a lovechild of the songwriting of Rodrigo’s idol, Taylor Swift, and the vocal delivery of Lorde.
1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back directly interpolates Taylor Swift’s reputation album cut New Years’ Day through its hushed piano. It is a soft ballad with rich, nature-extracted sound design that materializes into the sonic image of an endless river of Olivia’s bittersweet love experiences. Influenced by a relationship built on mixed signals and bipolarity, she doesn’t know where she and her lover stand as a couple. As with most tracks, Rodrigo’s ear for melody and expressive vocal delivery shines.
Deja Vu, a psychedelia-influenced alt pop song showcases Olivia’s frustration with an ex-lover that treats his new lover as a carbon copy of herself. Over a seemingly inviting, yet haunting xylophone reminiscent of an ice cream truck’s tune stuck in an endless loop, Olivia tauntingly addresses questions to an ex lover about the way he’s recycling the love language they had together with a new girl. Sonically, it’s perhaps the most experimental the album gets, and is the most unique track Olivia has written yet. The angry bridge is the polar opposite of Driver’s License – rough, loud, and aggressive, and perhaps the most infectious on the record.
Good 4 U is sonically similar to brutal, with aggressive, filtered electric guitar transporting Gen Z alt-pop icon Olivia Rodrigo to the era of ’00s Paramore punk rock angst. Falsetto-driven adlibs grotesquely contrast the throaty vocal style prominent on the track (another staple in early 00s pop punk composition). Presenting yet another stellar bridge, the tension continuously builds up as Olivia’s vocal delivery campily bodies the tone of a psychotic ex-girlfriend ready to avenge the wrongdoings of a man. Overall, the track is a well-read, well-documented sonic love letter to Olivia’s musical predecessors.
Starting with Enough 4 U, the album starts revealing its main flaw: the variety of sounds begin to wear thin as the sonic complexity of previous tracks are replaced by a number of unmemorable guitar and piano ballads. The lyricism is still relatively strong, interpolating various small details of a failed relationship in Swiftian songwriting fashion. The vocal delivery and prowess yet again showcases Olivia’s strongest trait.
On Happier, yet another relatively simple piano ballad, Rodrigo channels an Ed Sheeran-like sound with her midtempo sonic storytelling. On the track, Olivia finds a somewhat bittersweet detachment from the failed relationship, wishing for the happiness of the lost lover: “I know you’re happy, but don’t be happier”. Although Olivia’s singing and the catchy melody are pleasant to the ear, the track ultimately ends up sounding uninteresting to an ear trained in modern piano ballads and Adult Contemporary soundscapes.
The track Jealousy, Jealousy successfully brings back flavour to the relatively sour back end of the record through its sonic complexity. While still relatively low-tempo, it features detuned keys of piano, filtered drums and electric guitar, guiding the textbook theme of the track.
Favorite Crime sees the return of the bland piano ballad, and besides an uninteresting chord progression and forgettable melody, there is not much to note here.
The closer track, Hope Ur Ok, marks the lyrical departure from the world of heartbreak and fizzled out love stories, elevating the thematic complexity of the record, even if just by a bit. On the track, Olivia Rodrigo sings about LGBTQIA+ friends she’s encountered in her life. Showing her support for teenagers and young adults done wrong by the people who were supposed to love them, the song marks a key moment on the record, with selfless, affectionate lyricism and touching vocal delivery.
All in all, Sour is perhaps one of the most significant and high-quality debut release, even if the back end of it chugs sonically. Many already define it as the perfect post-pandemic record. Some might suggest how Rodrigo already surpassed the artistic work of her idols when they were her age. One thing, however, is definite – the new it girl of alt-pop is here to stay, and her first album is definitely a strong contender for the upcoming award season.