Pop-Punk Perfection And Swift Obsessions: First Impressions Of Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘SOUR’
Olivia Rodrigo's wildly anticipated album is here - so how does it stack up?
Olivia Rodrigo, the Disney star whose debut single ‘drivers license’ broke streaming records around the world earlier this year, has officially released her full-length debut, SOUR.
The album landed on streaming services this morning, after months of fevered anticipation that the 18-year-old Californian was going to become music’s Next Big Thing. The follow-up singles to ‘drivers license’ certainly helped that narrative — ‘deja vu’ was a gentle heart-crusher, and the recently released ‘good 4 u’ leveraged a ‘Misery Business’-style melody into pop-punk bliss.
So will SOUR deliver all our hopes and dreams? Our full review will be landing next week, but for now — let’s give SOUR a good once-over.
If you’re Australian, there’s a chance this chorus will remind you of a particular Rogue Traders’ tune circa 2005: ‘Voodoo Child‘. Those choppy guitars sound eerily reminiscent of the sample the Rogue Traders utilised — Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump It Up’.
Rodrigo’s playful and easy pop-punk is infinitely enjoyable — there’s a great, kiss-off attitude in her vocals, even if she’s spitting out very clunky lines like: “I’m so tired that I might/Quit my job, start a new life/And then they’d all be disappointed/Cos’ who am I if not exploited?”. Anyone over the age of 22 might wince, but just give in and let it wash over you.
If there was ever a Rodrigo song that pointed to her obsession with Taylor Swift, it’s this one (there are a couple more Swiftian moments to come, but we’ll get to those in time). Rodrigo and co-writer Dan Nigro have proven they can mine heartbreak and angst without drifting too much into cringe, a very hard line to walk at the best of times, but especially when the arrangement is this dramatic and primed for that crescendo.
Reams of paper have been devoted to the quiet genius of ‘drivers license’ in the months since its release, the best coming from Vulture and the New York Times. We mentioned Swift’s influence above, and you can see it plain as day here: the vivid imagery, the stripped back, bare-bones songwriting, the linear progression of the narrative. There’s also speckles of Lorde throughout — the result of someone that grew up on Pure Heroine and 1989 in equal measure.
‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’
This time, Rodrigo and Nigro can’t bear to hold back their Swift obsession, hinging this lilting, lovely track on a sample from Swift’s reputation closer ‘New Year’s Day‘.
But it would be wrong to think that Rodrigo’s obsession with these artists — Swift, Lorde, Alessia Cara — is on the nose, or that her music is just a crude pastiche of their work. Rodrigo wears these influences on her sleeve, in the same that way any artist that grew up in the saturated pop era of the 2010s does.
Rodrigo’s strength is her clear and expressive vocals, and the beautiful melodies she carries along with them. Pure loveliness.
‘Deja vu’, a strong single, somehow sounds a little underwhelming after following ‘1 step forward…’. It’s nice to hear snippets of different instrumentation poking through — the whirring and bending synths, the yelled harmonies. It was regarded by some critics as being an even better single than ‘drivers license’, but here it’s just…solid.
That said, when Olivia Rodrigo sings “Watching reruns of Glee”, it hits particularly hard.
‘good 4 u’
If you’ve scrolled through TikTok recently, you might have noticed everyone losing their minds over the fact that ‘good 4 u’ bears a very strong resemblance to Paramore’s beloved hit ‘Misery Business’. It’s true: the chord progression in this chorus is the same as ‘Misery Business’, and the melody shape is practically identical.
There’s no credit given to Paramore (at least that we can see on Spotify and Genius), so perhaps it could be seen as a little dodgy, but to give Rodrigo the benefit of the doubt, it’s probably just an honest and loving homage to a wildly influential band.
But all that aside, this is a perfect slice of pop-punk — roll down your windows and blast it for the whole suburb to hear. Particularly the bridge, which contains this (kinda) amazing clanger: “Maybe I’m too emotional/Your apathy is like a wound in salt.”
‘enough for you’
In a recent interview with NME, Rodrigo expressed her fervent desire to be taken seriously as a songwriter — the threat of being forever labelled a Disney actor-turned-singer would surely be hanging over her head. If songs like ‘1 step forward…’ and ‘enough for you’ are anything to go by, she doesn’t have much to worry about. The melody arches beautifully, the guitar is gentle and warm — there are flashes of the emotion of Alanis Morrissette and the directness of Swift.
We’re over halfway through the album now, and we’re yet to come across a bad track.
Okay, well we found it. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the Billie Eilish homage ‘happier’, but there’s a heaviness to the melody and arrangement that doesn’t exist in Rodrigo’s other downtempo tracks. It doesn’t lilt, it plods.
This tracks reeks of a song that was thrown on the album at the end because they were scratching for numbers. It’s directionless — there’s no drive throughout the sections to push anything along, and in the end it just kinda falls in on itself. A strange, messy song that should have been left on the cutting room floor.
We’ve laboured the Swift references throughout here, but it’s hard to ignore them when they come through as strong as they do. See ‘favorite crime’, which could have been an offcut of folklore/evermore or even the acoustic moments of Speak Now.
It’s a nice track, but you can really feel the energy draining away in the second half of this album — you wish there was another ‘good 4 u’ to punch it along. Rodrigo told NME she didn’t want to release an EP — but you can’t help but think a couple of these tracks could have sacrificed to make it a really solid collection.
‘hope ur ok’
Turns out we didn’t need another ‘good 4 u’, we needed ‘Clean’ — the underrated closer of Swift’s 1989. ‘Hope ur ok’ is a perfect, drifting closer, as Rodrigo sings to friends crushed by bigoted parents: “His parents cared more about the Bible/Than being good to their own child.”
It’s generous and, somehow, not leaden and cringey at all, and the arrangement — a dense mix of muted guitars, synths, and harmonies — carries it off. Sublime.
Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR is out now via Univeral Music Australia.
Jules LeFevre is the editor of Music Junkee.