ALBUM REVIEW: Olivia Rodrigo, SOUR
Editor's Note: I read this over again and just want all you to remember that I'm a grown man and my opinion doesn't really matter when it comes to this album. It's funny how angry/stressed I got about reviewing this very decent pop album. Also do some independent research about all the songwriting credits that were given out in the fews following this album's release, that contributes to the grade staying a C.
This album has been an elusive ghost that has haunted AntiArt for two whole weeks at this point. Every time one of us has attempted to review it, we have been met with failure in different forms. Whether through interrupting life events, severe pop fatigue, lack of perspective or just laziness, the three of us have not been able to encapsulate our feelings on this very simple collection of pop tracks performed by an 18 year old girl. This honestly reminds me of a Pixar movie in how it’s appeal to a younger demographic is somehow being used as a shield from critical analysis. It’s like how Finding Dory has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes despite being a boring, cash grab sequel, “it’s a movie about fish for children stop taking it so seriously”, people will say. On the other end of the biased critical spectrum, you have the AntiArt Podcast analysis of this record (stream, download and subscribe please our last episode got 90 downloads thx). In that episode, we basically said she is just as toxic as Future in how her lyrics sound like manipulative gaslighting sessions; she claims to have loved this person but all we heard was bitterness and disdain. Everyone besides Troy trashed it pretty hard, and I had fun doing that and only that as well. Even so, the truth lies somewhere in between, and that is why this album is a perfect C.
The above paragraph is exactly the type of overthinking, battle of the sexes conversation that this album was engineered to make happen, that’s not even what makes it a “C”. The grade is deserved because this album, like Thano’s gem knife, presents a blend of laziness and genuine talent that I haven’t seen in quite some time. As Ibe so brilliantly pointed out on the podcast, “driver’s license” was an unexpected runaway hit, similar to Desiigner’s “Panda”, that made her make ten more similar songs to form an album. The album was not planned, it was a “holy shit we need to capitalize on this popping track” moment. Anyway, the song uses the same bullshit piano scale you’ve heard on every single bad popular song (i.e. Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved”), but it has some very interesting down pitching and sound effect laden production. The lyrics are clearly written like a horoscope, just vague enough for me to relate to them exactly, “And you're probably with that blonde girl/Who always made me doubt/She's so much older than me/She's everything I'm insecure about”. Concrete adjectives like “blonde” and “older” feel like a psychic medium cold reading. “You have an aunt Jessie...Jamie...Jenna! Yes she’s trying to communicate with you and say, she loves you very much and to think about the doves...does that mean anything to you”. But at the same time, Olivia’s voice is beautiful and I kind of get chills listening to it. I see through it’s vapid genericness, but yet it still hits my emotions.
Another thing about this album that’s interesting is how Olivia, like Future or Drake, only tells her side of the story. On the spare piano balladry of “1 step forward, 3 steps back”, she says “all I did was speak normally, somehow I struck a nerve”. Yeah okay Olivia, that’s all you did. “I’m the love of your life until I make you mad”, did you say something horrific to him? Or are you just implying he always has a short fuse no matter what, and if so, why are you with him? The blame is always on her partner, and the omission of details that I mentioned earlier aids that and makes her seem like a sympathetic character. And maybe it is all his fault, but truly we don’t know, and that’s why we keep listening and talking about her music. “good 4 u” and “happier” continues this theme of her always being right, but turns into not allowing her boyfriend to move on. It uses false positivity, “Good for you, you're happy and healthy”...”I hope you're happy”...to trojan horse spite in. The thing about that is...I don’t hate it. It’s fun, especially on “good 4 u”. Olivia gives a really great vocal performance over a Paramore-type beat, appealing to the Machine Gun Kelly crowd without being corny like he is.
My problem with this album, as if I didn’t already state 20 problems with it, is that it feels like five or six hits with similar themes with five or six copycat songs in between as filler. “deja vu” is an excellent pop song. Yes, it sounds like Lorde, but they said that about Billie Eilish too, it’s not a bad thing by default. The specificity of her writing, mostly the way it builds up the relationship just to crash it down to insult her ex is really well done. “So when are you gonna tell her? That we did that too, she thinks it’s special, but it’s all reused” is genuinely and scarily relatable. Objectively though, the psychedelic, woozy drum sections paired with Olivia’s deadpan on the verses and burst of emotional potency on the choruses is fucking perfect pop. Then we get the yawner acoustic ballad “favorite crime”, which has some clever turns of phrase, but everything on this album is a “clever turn of phrase” to the point where it becomes unclever. She’s only 18, her perspective is limited due to her lack of experiences, and she only has such a small pool to draw from, and this leads to her repeating herself, and her producers doing the same.
What keeps me from giving this album a C- or even a D+ is the potential of it all. As I said, this album feels like a rushed reaction to a wildly popular first single. As a result, everything sounds the same. But there’s not a bad vocal performance to be found, an unpleasant instrumental and very few of the choruses would be considered “not catchy”. Just like on the first Lorde record, or the first Billie Eilish EP, a taste of fame leads to trying to chase that big single infinitely. With a few more years of experience, vocal coaching, reading, boys, her girls, whatever, under Lorde’s belt, she clapped back with the contemporary pop classic that is Melodrama, one of the best albums of the 2010s. As she progresses, Olivia will develop a more pointed musical taste, will find more interesting things to sing about besides one boy she dated in high school and most importantly, she will call the shots, not Geffen Records. That’s my hope for her at least, and that positive outlook I have bumps this album to a “C”, but the lack of variation and immature lyricism all across this record pigeonholes it right there. Like Rick Harrison from Pawn Stars, I can’t go any higher, take it or leave it.