If the past 12 months have been the weirdest in memory, then spare a thought for pop riser Olivia Rodrigo. This time last year she was a Disney star – fast forward and she’s a global icon three singles in, a teen voice already being touted as one of Gen Z’s finest.
Debut album ‘Sour’ arrives weighed down with hype and expectation, an 11 track song cycle that aims to make its mark. The banner headline of this review, then? ‘Sour’ exceeds the hype and smashes those expectations to pieces – lyrically strong, her bold, revealing, and punchy songwriting produces 11 potential smash hit singles, with each one feeling like a readymade anthem.
‘Brutal’ is a stabbing, succinct opener, recalling everyone from Garbage to Paramore via Elastica with its three chord minimalism. ‘Traitor’ opens out her pop palette a little, before the majestic, instant-classic ‘Drivers Licence’ arrives to make you fall in love with her calm, assured heartbreaker all over again.
‘Déjà vu’ sits close to the centre of the album, and Rodrigo’s heart – the buzzing digi-pop palette feels off kilter, breaking the rules because she’s too damn young to know them. ‘Good 4 U’ remains the exceptional, surging, stadium-throbbing monster it became on its release, but placed in this context her lyrical introspection becomes ever-more apparent.
‘Enough For You’ is a gorgeous hymn, perhaps the closest Olivia comes to echoing heroine – and now friend – Taylor Swift, with its ‘folklore’ esque acoustic chords. Indeed, Taylor is actually named on the credits, with ‘1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back’ acting as a bridge between two incredibly potent female pop voices.
Indeed, what’s revelatory on ‘Sour’ is the sheer breadth Olivia Rodrigo can occupy. Only three singles deep into her career, she’s able to move from the glorious torch song atmospherics of ‘Happier’ – a piano-pounding song of regret – to the blunt, half-spoken slacker pop of ‘Jealousy, Jealousy’.
Brought to a close with the demo-like intimacy of ‘Hope UR OK’, this is a bravura pop experience. Marked by excellence from front to back, ‘Sour’ is the sound of a bold talent operating on their own terms – potent in its execution, revealing in its lyricism, it’s a record that finds Olivia Rodrigo effortlessly claiming her status as pop’s newest icon, and one of its bravest voices.
Words: Robin Murray
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