Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR a Balance of Pop, Punk, Psychedelic Styles

Olivia Rodrigo SOUR Album Review by Anthony Madalone

Olivia Rodrigo exploded onto the music scene earlier this year with her hit single "drivers license." From there, Rodrigo became inescapable; teenagers and hardcore music fans alike were foaming at the mouth for Rodrigo's debut album to release. To say people were excited for SOUR is a severe understatement.

After all that build-up, the hype is real. SOUR is not only one of the best albums of 2021, but one of the best debut albums of all time. 

Olivia Rodrigo's music is defined by the way it hops across disciplines of pop. At 17 years old, Rodrigo was raised on a combination of Pearl Jam, Paramore, Lorde, and Taylor Swift. These influences combine for a gripping narrative front to back, both sonically and lyrically.

The album lures you in with an orchestral start before slamming you with the thunderous pop-punk banger "brutal." Rodrigo whines angsty grievances like "all I did was try my best / this the kind of thanks I get" over shredding guitars fit for early Green Day. "brutal," along with the chart-topping "good 4 u," find Rodrigo at her most raw.

While I came to SOUR for the pop-punk, I stayed for the ballads. Rodrigo is a gifted pop singer and songwriter. "drivers license" has been inescapable, but for a good reason; it's the perfect showcase for Rodrigo's style. 

Her opening vocals are soft, mimicking the insecurities and confusion she feels as she drives through her ex's block alone. By the second chorus, confusion shifts to blame as Rodrigo uses her powerful belt. All leads to the song's all-time great bridge; vocals become spacey and layered as memories of her ex haunt Rodrigo wherever she goes. Rodrigo's range on "drivers license" is stunning, and the song remains a testament to her incredible skill.

The rest of the album balances the punk, ballad, and psychedelic aspects of "drivers license" and "good 4 you" to craft a varied, exciting work of pop bliss.

"Deja Vu" features hypnotic guitars and a looping piano melody to call out an ex for repeating the same tricks with a new girl. "favorite crime" builds from a quiet confession of concessions within a past relationship to a screaming indictment, all over acoustic guitar. "jealousy, jealousy" weaponizes soft background vocals and punk call-outs as it rides stilted piano and a bassline straight out of a Prince song.

Through it all, Rodrigo wears her heart and influences on her sleeve with confidence unseen in even the most experienced pop stars. Her lyrical specificity is unafraid to get ugly; "drivers license" tells a story of highly publicized real-life heartbreak. Her songwriting, meanwhile, is so intensely inspired by Taylor Swift and Paramore that she retroactively gave songwriting credits to both.  

It's this intimacy that makes SOUR so groundbreaking. Rodrigo's broken heart lets her break these long held rules of pop music and blaze the way for future artists. SOUR both follows in the footsteps of Rodrigo’s idols and overtakes them.

At 34 minutes and 46 seconds, SOUR is not a very long album. Thematically, it almost entirely stays within the bounds of adolescent heartbreak.

That's okay; it doesn't need to be more than that. SOUR is a focused debut built to introduce the world to Rodrigo and leave you wanting more. As her career develops, Rodrigo is sure to tackle more complex themes. For now, let's bask in the glory that is this epic of teenage heartbreak. 

Olivia Rodrigo SOUR Album Review Track-By-Track

Track 1: brutal

Length: 2:23

From the review: "The album lures you in with an orchestral start before slamming you with the thunderous pop-punk banger 'brutal." Rodrigo whines angsty grievances like "all I did was try my best / this the kind of thanks I get" over shredding guitars fit for early Green Day. "brutal"... finds Rodrigo at her most raw."

Track 2: traitor

Length: 3:49

The Lorde-influenced "traitor" opens with the basic chords of an organ laced with a chorus of Rodrigo singing various harmonies. As "traitor" progresses, it layers acoustic guitar and echoing drums to tell a tale of (not quite) cheating. A strong showcase of Rodrigo's ability as a singer and an excellent intro to "drivers license."

Track 3: drivers license

Length: 4:02

From the review: "Her opening vocals (on drivers license) are soft, mimicking the insecurities and confusion she feels as she drives through her ex's block alone. By the second chorus, confusion shifts to blame as Rodrigo uses her powerful belt. All leads to the song's all-time great bridge; vocals become spacey and layered as memories of her ex haunt Rodrigo wherever she goes. Rodrigo's range on "drivers license" is stunning, and the song remains a testament to her incredible skill.

Track 4: 1 step forward, 3 steps back

Length: 2:43 "1 step forward, 3 steps back" is a purposefully paired-back song about a former toxic relationship. Rodrigo accompanies the piece with just a piano and the sounds of birds chirping, while the hypnotic chorus feels like a nursery rhyme. "1 step forward" is a strong song in its own right but pales in comparison to the album's high (especially when sandwiched between "drivers license" and "deja vu").

Track 5: deja vu

Length: 3:35 From the review: "'deja vu' features hypnotic guitars and a looping piano melody to call out an ex for repeating the same tricks with a new girl." A more subtle song than "drivers license" or "good 4 u," "deja vu" is a slow burn. The build, however, is just as masterful. You'll be shouting "I know you get deja vu" with Rodrigo by the song's end.

Track 6: good 4 u

Length: 2:58 Rodrigo's pop-punk hit "good 4 u" is the quintessential breakup banger. A killer riff, complete drum kit, and earworm chorus craft an instantly iconic single. "Good for you, I'm happy you're healthy / not me if you ever cared to ask" will be sung for generations.

Track 7: enough for you

Length: 3:22 "enough for you" substitutes the piano "1 step forward, 3 steps back" for acoustic guitar with another simple, heartfelt ballad. A stronger narrative than "1 step forward," Rodrigo's voice tells a vivid story. The song's ending twists its chorus for one of the album's most clever moments. "enough for you" relishes in its simplicity.

Track 8: happier

Length: 2:55 "happier" uses a similar instrumental kit to "deja vu" to tell her ex she hopes he's happy but not too happy. A clever concept, "happier" struggles because of its late placement and lack of new ideas. What would be a standout song on a separate album falls short here.

Track 9: jealousy, jealousy

Length: 2:53 From the review: "'jealousy, jealousy' weaponizes soft background vocals and punk call-outs as it rides stilted piano and a bassline straight out of a Prince song." On track 9, the song's sound somehow still feels unique. A standout track and an excellent look at the toxicity of social media culture.

Track 10: favorite crime

Length: 2:32 From the review: "'favorite crime' builds from a quiet confession of concessions within a past relationship to a screaming indictment, all over acoustic guitar." This is a maximized take on the songwriting of "1 step forward, 3 steps back" and "enough for you." "favorite crime" includes some absolute lyrical gems ("one heart broke, four hands bloody") and ranks among Rodrigo's most tempered, mature tracks.

Track 11: hope ur ok

Length: 3:29 Rodrigo shifts focus outward for album closer "hope ur ok." A beautiful track in the same vein as "Wildest Dreams" or "august" by Taylor Swift, "hope ur ok" feels like a peek ahead to what's next for Rodrigo. It's a great taste of her storytelling ability outside of her personal struggles.


Anthony Madalone

Anthony Madalone is a DC-based contributor for Binaural Records. His old school roots in Springsteen have transformed into a love for modern pop and hip-hop. In his free time, Anthony enjoys performing stand-up and eating rice.

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