America’s freshest angst-ridden starlet Olivia Rodrigo returns with her sophomore record Guts. A record which doesn’t stray too far from the successful template which drew much hyperbole, awards and dollars on debut, Sour. Like all good guitar-driven pop music, she has appropriated totemic moments in indie rock and squeezed them through the hit machine. It is an album of contrasts. It is at (few) times sincere and cynical. It is bubblegum and darkness. And also simplistic but, in ways I’m sure only a teenage mind can empathise, complex. On the official PR blurb Rodrigo says:
“For me, this album is about growing pains and trying to figure out who I am at this point in my life. I feel like I grew 10 years between the ages of 18 and 20—it was such an intense period of awkwardness and change. I think that’s all just a natural part of growth, and hopefully the album reflects that.”
Well, it does and it doesn’t. Rodrigo has an incredible vocal range and on many of the piano-led songs here she gives glimpses of a burgeoning classic AM-rock songwriter. However, it’s when she switches to guitar and plays karaoke rock the record loses its way. Sure, the songs are ‘bops’ and will no doubt leave a catchy chorus lingering in your head for a few hours but it’s mostly forgettable fare. We either get Hole-lite teen movie soundtrack on all-american bitch or her attempts at cool indie (someone’s been listening to Wet Leg) on bad idea, right, with both songs essentially setting the tone for the record. It’s either about Rodrigo as the edgy, couldn’t-care-less-what-you-think rock chick or the girl who makes the same boy mistakes over and over.
And yet…lead single vampire provides a genuine moment of vulnerability with its grandiose racing balladry. Her vocal soars and a terrific middle eight gives it a theatrical energy setting it apart from the other songs. The plaintive Lacy follows, with its Joni Mitchell inspired vocal and clever lyrics (“Dazzling in scarlet, Bardot reincarnate”) showing that when stripped back to this degree you feel like you get more from Rodrigo’s heart. Other highlights in this mould include the up-and-down self-questioning of the grudge and making the bed with a lovely descending melody and classic-contemporary feels in the style of Carole King. pretty isn’t pretty for once has the guitars dialled to muted shades of classic 80s indie and is all the better for its restraint.
Any one of these songs could be singles designed to sell units to carefully targeted segments in her audience. College pop rock? Let’s do ballad of a homeschooled girl. Or perhaps something more Swift-esque? Then it’d have to be love is embarrassing. Like on Sour, a few f-bombs are thrown in for good measure just to make sure the listener knows this is a “grown-up” singing, but for the sake of picking up a thesaurus just a little unnecessary. Any one of them could be the latest trending sound on TikTok which you can’t help but feel was part of the pre-album production meeting. Award season awaits and Olivia Rodrigo has wide open arms.