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Album review: SOUR - Olivia Rodrigo

Abi Ramsay reviews Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR

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Image Credit: Geffen Records


Olivia Rodrigo shot to fame in January this year with the release of ‘drivers license’; her debut single which passed the one billion stream mark by the end of March. However, if like me you still partake in Disney + viewing, and aren’t quite ready to let go of the High School Musical glory days, you will already be aware of Rodrigo’s song writing talents. She has written several tracks for her character Nini on High School Musical The Musical: The Series (HSMTMTS). It is here that we find the basis for her debut album SOUR – an album which has made billboard history, and one I have been blasting since its release on 21 March.

Of course, it is entirely possible to immerse yourself in the album without any of the backstory to Rodrigo’s songwriting, but as her influence is Taylor Swift, queen of the breakup track, it seems appropriate to mention the events that led to this groundbreaking album. As I mentioned, Rodrigo plays Nini in the Disney mockumentary series HSMTMTS. Her character is the love interest of Joshua Bassett’s Ricky, and it is clear the romance didn’t just stop on screen but transpired into real life. However, at the end of last year Joshua Bassett was pictured with his rumoured new girlfriend, Sabrina Carpenter, suggesting that Rodrigo and Bassett’s private love story had come to an end. And so, SOUR  was born.

After these photos emerged, Rodrigo wasted no time in releasing the album’s single ‘driver’s license’, which soared to fame on TikTok and reached number one in the UK charts for nine weeks. This emotional breakup track has direct references to Bassett and Carpenter, with Rodrigo stating “you’re probably with that blonde girl who always made me doubt/ she’s so much older than me, and everything I am insecure about”. Aside from the digs, Rodrigo’s skill with lyrics means that this is a song which is relatable to nearly anyone who has been through a breakup, which, paired with the catchy melody, now sees it as a top favourite for many people around the world.

Rodrigo kicks off the album with her track 'brutal’, which starts with synthetic strings before quickly hitting us with a loud electric guitar riff. This song is very different from many of the other pieces on the album, with a rock-edge that is reminiscent of Avril Lavigne. The lyrics here are just as relatable as those on ‘driver’s license’, with my firm favourite being ‘I’m not cool and I’m not smart and I can’t even parallel park’. The riotous guitar riff continues throughout the track, before slowing down for the last 20 seconds, where Rodrigo starts singing rather than speaking; a nice entrance into the rest of the album.

Her next track ‘traitor’ has to be my favourite song on the album, starting with gospel-like harmonies before returning to the slower minor melodies that we are expecting. Again, we can see the influence of her breakup on this track, with her taking subtle digs at Bassett and Carpenter. However, these references are more covertly implied, allowing this track to relate to any breakup.

After ‘traitor’, we have ‘driver’s license’, which is quickly followed by ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’. This song in particular has a strong Billie Eilish influence, with Rodrigo using sotto voice throughout the track, a huge contrast to the previous power ballad of ‘driver’s license’. I know that for many this is a favourite song on the album, however I find it quite slow, perhaps acting as a bridge before turning to the next few pieces.

Rodrigo follows this slower song with ‘deja vu’ and ‘good 4 u’. Much like her previous single ‘driver’s license’, Rodrigo does some outrageous references to Bassett and Carpenter in these two songs that can leave you feeling quite sorry for them – until you realise that they are also releasing music about the situation, and are probably making some money off the drama as well (if you’re interested, play ‘Skin’ by Sabrina Carpenter and Joshua Bassett’s EP). Both songs are catchy and upbeat, again highlighting Rodrigo’s lyric writing talents, as well as her melodic motifs. After this point however, the album does start to get a bit repetitive.

The final five songs are all beautifully written, however as the tempo and general beat of the songs stays the same, it can be a bit confusing as to which song you are actually listening to. ‘jealousy, jealousy’ stands out the most, as instead of being aimed at the lost love interest it is aimed at the new girlfriend, starting with a catchy bass riff, before Rodrigo once again adopts her lower register with almost spoken lyrics. This leads into a final transition from the angst ridden teen to a more reflective tone, as SOUR ends with a Harry Styles-esque song entitled ‘hope ur ok’ which sees Rodrigo reminiscing about old friends.

A mix of Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Avril Lavigne, Rodrigo hits the nail on the head time and time again with her relatable lyrics, power ballads, and digs at her ex, which make it the perfect listen for every occasion. The second half of the album is admittedly weaker than the first six tracks, but as far as a debut album goes, Rodrigo has broken record after record, making her a strong contender for the award season next year. I for one am excited to see what comes next, and to listen to the latest drama from the Rodrigo – Bassett – Carpenter love triangle when new music is released.

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