Review: Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Sour’ Album Is a Critic’s Pick
Her paramours are playing these sorts of games, too. “Which lover will I get today?/Will you walk me to the door or send me home crying?” she sighs over the dampened piano of “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back.” And it’s on “Drivers License” where that realization fully crystallizes: “Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me,” she gasps. There are few colder jolts than learning someone you loved was simply playing a role.
Rodrigo’s juggle is also embedded in her musical choices on “Sour,” which is written almost wholly by Rodrigo and produced almost wholly by Dan Nigro, formerly of the band As Tall as Lions (who also contributed songwriting). She plants a flag for the divided self right at the top of the album, on the spectacular “Brutal,” which begins with a few seconds of sober strings before she declares, “I want it to be, like, messy,” which it then becomes. That tug of war persists throughout the album: more polished songs like the singles and the rousing, Paramore-esque “Good 4 U” jostling with rawer ones like “Enough for You” and “Jealousy, Jealousy.”
“Traitor,” one of the album’s highlights, is a stark song masquerading as a bombastic one. “I kept quiet so I could keep you,” Rodrigo confesses, before arriving at an elegant way of understanding, if not quite accepting, how someone who loved you has moved on: “Guess you didn’t cheat/but you’re still a traitor.”
That songwriting flourish is emblematic of what Rodrigo has learned from Taylor Swift on this album (which, in shorthand, is Swift’s debut refracted through “Red”): nailing the precise language for an imprecise, complex emotional situation; and working through private stories in public fashion. There is residue of Swift throughout “Sour” — whether the way that “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back” interpolates “New Year’s Day,” or the “Cruel Summer”-esque chants on “Deja Vu.”
But really, Swift persists in the lens, which is relentlessly internal — Rodrigo only breaks out of it in a couple of places on the album, like on “Jealousy, Jealousy,” where she pulls back to assess the self-image damage that social media inflicts (“I wanna be you so bad, and I don’t even know you/All I see is what I should be”) and on the final track, “Hope Ur OK,” a melancholy turn that’s thoughtfully compassionate, but thematically out of step with the rest of the album.