Genres: Pop, Pop-Punk, Indie-Pop
Released: 21//05//21, Geffen Records
Favourite Tracks: brutal, good 4 u, jealousy, jealousy
If you liked this, you’ll like: Pure Heroine (2013) // Lorde, Paramore (2013) // Paramore, Red (2012), Taylor Swift
Olivia Rodrigo’s debut SOUR comes across as rushed and formulaic in places, but despite these pitfalls, remains heartfelt throughout.
Stating that this project feels rough around the edges and rushed is no laboured observation. Ever since the shock success of driver’s license saw the 18-year-old Disney actress become a household name in the pop sphere it seemed inevitable record label executives would pounce as quickly as possible to have a full-length album available to stream.
To be fair, expectations should be tempered by the constraining factors, namely the desire to capitalise on the hype quickly, combined with the fact that Rodrigo is the current face of a popular Disney franchise and thus not allowed the same artistic freedom contemporaries may enjoy. Those combining factors were always going to produce a somewhat lacklustre album, however, ramming home that point shouldn’t detract from the positives of this project.
Overall, this is not a poor album by any means – predictable? In places, formulaic and somewhat bland elsewhere. The incorporation of grungier, “heavier” rock sounds was a nice decision, however those tracks don’t blend well with the more regal, grandiose ballads that make up the bulk of the project. The placement of these tracks, carelessly strewn throughout without much thought sees us start off with that pop-punk based sound with brutal. One of my preferred tracks on the album, the violins segueing for a heavier guitar rift is a punchy opener that captures the listener’s attention immediately. I was uncertain about the slight manipulation of the vocals, but they have grown on me and I think they suit the track. Overall, the song is quite generic and relatable for its target audience. I was also a fan of how the song naturally wrapped up – flowing back into the same violins, quietening and calming the sound as we approach our first proper break-up ballad.
traitor is okay – pleasant enough, but so low in energy and formulaic in nature. I haven’t got much to nitpick here – production doesn’t necessarily stand out to me, neither in a negative or positive way, the vocals are decent, the lyrics expected in terms of plainness. I enjoy the transition into the next track, the aforementioned driver’s license. This track has grown on me after hearing it in the context of the album – it is Rodrigo’s best vocal performance out of the slower paced songs, and the most sonically diverse and interesting. It blows traitor out of the water in terms of impact, which highlights the poor placement of tracks. traitor’s dawdling pace and statement-esque instrumentals would have it better suited to at least the back half of the tracklisting, if not the closer.
In contrast, 1 step forwards, 3 step back is one of the few tracks to be placed in a somewhat suitable position – gentle and precise piano with effortless, breathy vocals that carry an air of nostalgia and regret. Even the chorus doesn’t ramp up the drama like countless other tracks on here, leaving the track as calming palate cleanser suited for the midsection.
The two other singles, deja vu and good 4 u are bundled together, which again makes sense. deja vu is the one song linking the two styles this albums switches between, starting off soft and dreamy, before eventually incorporating pop-punk style guitar riffs and energy. This only helps the cohesion of the two sounds slightly, thanks to the imbalance in favour of the lovesick songs. good 4 u was the pick of the singles for me and remains my favourite track. Direct and to the point, it carries a fun energy that conveys all the hurt and anger of a scorned teenage girl. The breakdown before the final chorus is nicely worked, and overall, I haven’t got anything negative to point out. Yes, as others have pointed out, the chord progression for the chorus comes straight out of Paramore’s playbook, and I would also comment that the vocal variations and inflictions also heavily remind me of Hayley Williams’ work within the band. But with other tracks on here falling victim to formulas and cliches, its barely worth much thought.
Instantly after this track the energy is sapped by the acoustic based enough for you. The only saving grace here is the variety in terms of new sounds and angle to the sole theme throughout this album, as Rodrigo falls into the all-too-common trap of blaming herself for her lover leaving her. The following track, happier, brings us back to the piano ballads that have failed to impress throughout, and again that is the case again. I will say that the brief bass instrumental is a nice, unique feature of the track.
The layered vocals at the start of jealousy, jealousy are reminiscent of tracks from Lorde’s debut, Pure Heroine, which adds up when you consider that Rodrigo lists the Kiwi artist as a major influence. jealousy, jealousy is a rather interesting track, thanks to heavily reliance on the smart bassline. The breakdown at the back of the song is also the most brave and out there, with a piano snippet that almost comes across as devolving into madness. But again, the significant contrast as we enter the penultimate track, another guitar fuelled, indie-pop based track that doesn’t match the energy – or quality of the preceding track.
There are moments of real quality here, and there is no denying the talent Rodrigo clearly boasts. The poor construction of the album’s flow really lets it down, and whilst it was interesting to hear mainstream pop features mixed with country, pop-punk, indie and lo-fi influences, SOUR feels very disjointed at best and unrelated at worst.