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The Earliest Bird: The Top New Recorded Release 5-21-21 – 5-27-21, Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour” Reviewed



I’m surprised it took this long. The first song on Filipino-American teenage actress and singer Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album, dropped hours ago, is an inspired lift of Elvis Costello’s arena sports masterwork from his sophomore album, “Pump It Up”. Once you get past the strings intro, the band kicks in with Costello’s industrial powered lift off on a terrific set opener of teen angst “Brutal”. “Brutal” is what we expect from the eighteen year old who hit the top of the charts with the heartbroken “driver’s license,” a  self-lacerating self-portrait with the deadly amusing ” I’m not cool, and I’m not smart and I can’t even parallel park”. We can’t promise Rodrigo’s  anything more than a teen manufacture who, ignoring where Billie Eilish came away from Lorde, adds 70s classic rock to Taylor Swift teenager in love, for a sound that is both familiar and unique. Soon she reaches “Brutal”‘s apotheosis “if someone tells me one more time ‘enjoy your youth’ I’m gonna cry”…

Olivia was in commercials at the age of six, in Disney’s sights by the age of twelve, and has just hit the second season of the unwatchable “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”. Then she got caught in her backstory after a messy triangle where Rodrigo’s co-star Joshua Bassett dropped her for Sabrina Carpenter. Not bad, and to make matters stranger, Joshua came out as queer four days ago to add some degree, which hits me as more non-binary than homosexual but whatever, something else that makes Olivia wobble between real life and a TV program.

“driver’s license” lies on its back during that addictive bridge, and the entire song is a pop stroke which builds into rushalong and singalong choruses. It is a major stroke and Olivia can’t match it, the album gets a little dreary as over and over again she whines about being a teenager in lust, it adds up to a story often told that comes close to getting stung and the reason it doesn’t is because it is, more than Elvis or Taylor, a signpost up ahead as a classic rock 70s styled album ala Harry Styles’ Fine Line. The producer (and co-songwriter) here is 39 year old Dan Nigro, and his instincts go towards the 00s and the 70s mixed into a clean sounding digital meets analog electronic doctored so subtle you miss it on the brittle rocker put down “Good 4 U”.

The duo lose me on some of the slower stuff, “Traitor” is a bad choice for second song, though the album steadies itself after that, till the Lorde-y “jealousy, jealousy” drags it down a little, and it doesn’t right the album till late in the proceedings, even the Taylor Swift tributeish “Favorite Crime” doesn’t quite do it (“I Step Forward, Three steps back” interlopes Swift’s “New Year’s Day”) but nothing here is too slavish.

As a debut, as a TV star trope, as a fiction come to life, and certainly as something that teens everywhere should like as they middle class their romances, Sour is much better than we had any right to expect. Not fearless, but this year’s model…

Grade: B+


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