REVIEW: Olivia Rodrigo has done it again
‘GUTS’ is an ambitious follow-up to ‘SOUR,’ with all the enthusiasm, creativity and lyricism that put Rodrigo on the map in 2021
It’s been two years since Olivia Rodrigo took the world by storm with her debut album “SOUR.” The album put Rodrigo on the map for pop stardom, and listeners have been eagerly awaiting her follow-up to what some consider a near-perfect debut.
Yet in between the release of “SOUR” and Rodrigo’s follow-up album “GUTS,” the question remained — could Rodrigo catch lightning in a bottle again?
The answer came on Friday — a loud, eager, totally encapsulating, all-resounding “YES.”
For those mainly familiar with Rodrigo’s first album, the star is often associated with stellar bridges, haunting ballads and all the heartbreak, agony and pettiness of being a teenager. Over the summer, she released two singles from “GUTS”: “vampire,” a powerful pop-rock anthem, and “bad idea, right?” a fun, 2000s-esqe track.
Both songs boasted an evolution from “SOUR,” and had people noticing the rock influence bleeding into Rodrigo’s sound as well.
In an interview with Billboard prior to the release of “GUTS,” Rodrigo acknowledged the rock influence present on her sophomore album, stating that she’s “always loved rock music” and “always wanted to find a way that I could make it feel like me, and make it feel feminine and still telling a story and having something to say that’s vulnerable and intimate.”
On “GUTS,” Rodrigo achieves just that.
A remarkable follow-up to the opener of “SOUR” — “brutal,” which is one of her most rock-influenced tracks — “all-american bitch” kicks off the album in what, at first, appears to be a softer guitar ballad and quickly evolves into a chorus of drums and (literal) screams.
Unlike Rodrigo’s first track on “SOUR,” however, “all-american bitch” isn’t alone in its rock and roll sound on “GUTS.” “ballad of a homeschooled girl” and “get him back!” are just two tracks of many on the album that share an edgier sound, which makes sense when you take some of Rodrigo’s musical inspirations — including Rage Against the Machine and Bikini Kill — into consideration.
It would be misleading to label this album with just one genre, though — in fact, it’d be the antithesis of “GUTS.” Though Rodrigo plays with harsher sounds, talk-singing and prominent instrumentals on the record, she still brings with her all the wistful and emotional ballads that first entranced listeners on her debut.
Though tracks such as “making the bed,” “logical” and “the grudge” aren’t necessarily the standouts of this album, the songs best embody Rodrigo’s ability to build power through composition, as well as showcase her songwriting talents.
Lines like “Every good thing has turned into somethin’ I dread / And I’m playin’ the victim so well in my head / But it’s me who’s been makin’ the bed” are few of many that go straight to your heart when listening, and continue Rodrigo’s trend of spotlighting the uglier and less “socially acceptable” emotions everybody feels.
Further than its devastating ballads or punk-infused anthems, “GUTS” is also remarkably tongue-in-cheek. Tracks like “love is embarrassing” feature Rodrigo regretfully looking back on her actions in relationships that didn’t last (“Just watch as I crucify myself / For some weird second string / Loser who's not worth mentioning”) and highlight her vocal experimentation.
On “lacy,” Rodrigo toes the lines between jealousy, infatuation and obsession as she describes “the sweetest torture one could bear,” and on “pretty isn’t pretty” Rodrigo laments demanding and unrealistic beauty standards, stating that no matter what she changes about herself, “pretty isn’t pretty enough anyway.”
Yet it’s the closing song that truly brings the emotional journey threaded through “GUTS” to a close.
The twelfth and final track on the album, “teenage dream” begins with a softer piano melody as Rodrigo questions if her best years are behind her (“Got your whole life ahead of you, you're only nineteen / But I fear that they already got all the best parts of me”) only to crescendo into an electric bridge, where Rodrigo repeats “Yeah, they all say that it gets better / It gets better, but what if I don’t?”
Here, the fear of failure and the future fully come to light in a stunning final track, sealing “GUTS” off on a sadder note, but an authentic one at that.
While this may not be the last listeners will hear from the “GUTS” era (vinyl variants of the album hold four additional songs that Rodrigo may still release on a digital deluxe edition), it’s certainly a good place to start, and Rodrigo has once again proven that she not only has the guts to top her debut, but she can completely spill them as well, doing so with fire, fury and grace.
This article was edited by Zoe Bell, Patricia McGee and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis.