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SOUR PATCH:
THE OLIVIA MOMENT

SOUR, the debut solo full-length by Geffen’s chartbusting teen breakout Olivia Rodrigo, feels like the other shoe dropping.

That’s in part due to Rodrigo making good on the promise shown in three increasingly confident and engaging singles, which pushed her album’s RDT total to astronomical heights before anyone ever heard it.

But there is a another sense in which SOUR is the big, loud dropping of a shoe: After an ocean of singles by young bedroom popsters soaked in sorrow, we have a solid pop record on which that sadness at last boils into rage—not the subtle seething of fellow teen giant Billie Eilish, but explosive, rock ’n’ roll fury.

It feels good.

To be sure, “brutal,”  the punked-up opening cut of Rodrigo’s terse and well-crafted album, offers a snarling 2:24 montage of the teen minefield, with a dollop of wry humor. The shuddering guitars—quoting Elvis Costello’s coruscating “Pump It Up” (just as that song evoked Dylan’s searing ”Subterranean Homesick Blues”)—come to a sudden halt as she confides: “it’s brutal out here.”

But the anger in SOUR is, in large measure, about a timeless, inexhaustible subject: romantic disenchantment. And it may not always manifest itself in hard-edged power pop; indeed, sometimes the quietest moments fulminate the most.

The material demonstrates Rodrigo has range as both writer and singer (much praise is also due to faithful co-writer/producer Daniel Nigro). You’ll hear an array of influences, from Prince to Taylor Swift to Alanis Morissette, with a bittersweet scoop of Avril Lavigne, a sprinkling of No Doubt and maybe even a soupçon of Janis Ian

The second track, “traitor,” channels classic girl-group pop to confront an ex who’s hooked up with someone new, but replaces the masochism of old with serious reproach: “You didn’t cheat / but you’re still a traitor.”

On “one step forward, three steps back,” she takes on toxic male mindfucking and the toll it takes not just on a girl’s confidence but on her sense of reality.

Leadoff single “drivers license,” which melted the DSPs at the top of 2021, has been discussed ad infinitum but makes more sense in context; its sadness seems less victimlike when grouped with songs like the brimstone-spewing “good 4 u.”

The latter song is where the SOUR of the album’s title clearly refers to grapes, as a former lover cleans up his act for his new gf: “Good for you, I guess you’re happy / Not me, if you ever cared to ask.” When the tense groove of the verses gives way to that barreling, power-chord refrain and Rodrigo lets slip the dogs of war, it feels like a mountain of sad-sack diaries have been set ablaze. “Screw that! Screw you,” she shouts, and no matter your age or relationship status, you may find yourself yelling along.

There are plenty of other emotional currents on the album. Our heroine is sucked into an updraft of Instagram-driven self-loathing on the coiled “jealousy, jealousy,” while the compassion of “hope ur ok” rounds out this emotional rollercoaster with a spark of optimism.

Even so, it’s gratifying to see the kids crank up the amps and get mad. Here’s hoping they use that fury to make a better world than we’ve handed them.

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