When “Driver’s License” first hit, it took a while for me to embrace its brilliance. It felt like an auspicious push by her record and fanbase, as it was hard to believe that she wouldn’t turn out another phenomenal hit. As the weeks eagerly passed since, Olivia Rodrigo kept pushing the limits, delivering and performing hit after hit after hit; and the momentum hasn’t stopped – as evidenced by the amount of hype behind her debut album Sour. It doesn’t feel like any debut I’ve heard in a while, particularly because it does not feel like one. Olivia Rodrigo has a keen ear as a musician and singer-songwriter as if she has been in the industry for years. And that is what spread throughout Sour, as it is engulfed by illustrious pop and indie rock anthems and ballads that all intertwine into one long and thoroughly written introspective piece about maturity, adolescence, and love, despite falling short due to some ballads feeling redundant.
Sour doesn’t like to mince words. As a Disney star, sometimes there are limits to where you can take aspects of your artistry. There is an image that the company wants from some of their heavy hitters, fortunately for Olivia it didn’t happen till the momentous reception to her follow up to “Drivers License,” which takes the extreme by making love extreme with the word fucking prior to the word. She opens Sour with two tracks, “brutal” and “traitor,” that quintessentially provides backstory to the themes and directions Olivia will take on the album as you let it play.
“Brutal,” is this crazily audacious punk-garage rock anthem that takes mold from this generational trauma that befalls people from the stresses of stardom. Her vocals take an exceptional leap from “good 4 u,” which just feels like the angsty version of “Drivers License.” It brings a different edge, as opposed to “brutal,” which is reminiscent of the uproarious stylistic vocal performances that made artists like Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morissette have a different footing and push into stardom-their own way.
“Traitor,” is the complete opposite of “brutal.” It takes a different approach to “Driver’s License,” where instead of recalling how her ex would play coy and flirt on the side with his ex-Disney star sidepiece and how Olivia let herself become mistaken, further believing that there was some chance. The melancholic melodies weave a constant push-back for her emotions, in the way she beautifully exuberates confidence in her feelings, letting the vocal performance tell us all. It is unlike the other ballad-like tracks as there is more instrumental depth.
As it continues tracks like “Driver’s License” and “1 step forward, 3 steps back,” come and deliver with vibrant moments of nuance, like the piano bedroom pop ballad that is usually missing now from some other prominent artist. “1 step forward, 3 steps back” is similar to “Drivers License,” but like the Saturday Night Live skit, this song feels more like a girl singing to herself with a piano in her room since it doesn’t focus too much on using effects to elevate the backing vocals. It continues on “enough for you,” as the piano plays second fiddle to Olivia’s lyricism, which is at its most relative. It details how Olivia tried to do things like read and learn about things that made her ex seem like an intellectual savant – compared to her and this growing fear he’d find her boring in the long run.
Unfortunately Sour is a lot of the feeling Olivia brings to songs about her ex, but the subject becomes oversaturated by the time it reaches the end. There are a lot of bright spots and other times It makes you start wondering when she will fully leave the bedroom and deliver a more bombastic indie rock record. Though there has been a lot of praise, a lot of the songs hit more in one aspect as opposed to the other, whether instrumentally or lyrically. So while Olivia Rodrigo immerses in the music with main producer Dan Nigro, known for writing and producing some songs on Conan Grey’s self-titled debut and Carolina Polatchek’s last album Pang, a few tracks don’t quite hit a run. What he brings is this vibrant array of acoustic guitar riffs that don’t overshadow the underlying subtleties from the other instruments used in some songs and using it as a guiding force, like on “enough for you.”
Dan Nigro mixes Sour to have cohesion when it transitions from song to song, creating a short rollercoaster ride. The tip of the ride comes from standouts “DeJa Vu,” which is a fun psychedelic pop that embraces the drum and synthesizer and maximizes it to a bombastic overtone. It takes over as the drop hits after the first chorus and emboldens the rest of the track. However, It’s a disappointment that the two producers Dan Nigro brought to co-produce two tracks, ended up being some of the ones with weaker production. Jam City co-produces “jealousy, jealousy,” and it seems like the only real contributions are boring drum patterns and off putting modulations to her vocals.
Sour delivers at a level of expectancy and goes above and beyond that as well. From the opening track and on, the different styles that she approaches succeed with virtuoso. Olivia Rodrigo didn’t hold back and it is great to hear as we await what she brings to us in the future. For now I’m going to kick back and listen to “Deja Vu,” on repeat.