Review: Olivia Rodrigo Can’t Hear Her Thoughts

I’ve always liked Olivia Rodrigo. I find her to be one of the rare pop-culture obsessions that can easily stick around longer than their Twitter-appointed due date. The chart-smashing 2021 release, SOUR, is simply a great pop album. Rodrigo shines in lyrical prowess, vocal performances, and creativity, but as most creatives will tell you, the hardest part is coming back for round two.

GUTS, the follow-up, was only announced in late June. Audiences were immediately thrown off by the purple album cover, which bore a striking resemblance to that of SOUR.

© Chuffmedia

The lead single, “vampire,” is exquisite from almost every angle. It’s what I love most about Rodrigo’s songwriting, combining vivid imagery with familiar events. The production is just as outstanding, taking a few risky choices that you just don’t find a lot these days.

What is left to be said about that music video? Directed by Petra Collins, “vampire” follows Olivia in a Thriller-esque chase against love and time, with a few twists and turns along the way. The cinematography ranks quite high for me in all-timers and really highlights what is so very cool about the song. I nearly say perfect.

The second single, “bad idea right?,” received a mixed online reception. Some called it clever and quirky, while others believed it to be cringey and an all-around bland version of 90’s rom-com soundtracks. I will say I was immediately on the cringe side of things upon first listen, but it has definitely grown on me in the past month. Most, like I did, perhaps read too much into a song that’s just trying to have a bit of fun.

© Chuffmedia, Geffen Records

The new record opens with a song entitled “all-american b****”. It’s nowhere near as great of an opening as 2021’s “brutal” and falls apart with random swearing (no, not just the title). The chorus will catch most, and if you had to call Alanis Morissette the godmother of SOUR, Avril Lavigne is the godmother of GUTS, which shows the most here. I could see this one growing on me, but I just don’t think it has the momentum required.

The next new song is track four, entitled ‘lacy.’ I don’t really know what the goal was here. It’s folky but doesn’t have much of a point. ‘Skin like puff pastry…’ is the first of many questionable lines on the record that really make you wonder.

“ballad of a homeschooled girl” is the one that will have a lot of people talking. In my Britpop-loving mind, I sensed a strong Elastica influence here. It’s catchy, cool, and has that raw edge. I could easily imagine this track as a single. However, it concludes with some quirky, punk-inspired rambling, where Rodrigo playfully remarks, “Thought your mom was your wife, called you the wrong name twice, can’t think of a third line…” I’m sure this was tongue in cheek, but when you have such meaningful lyrics and shoehorn in one of the worsts you’ve ever heard, the train completely comes off the tracks. That’s why Noel Gallagher didn’t write a second verse for Wonderwall.

© Interscope Records

I didn’t write any notes for “making the bed” if that tells you anything. For those that loved the ballads on SOUR, this one is for you. It’s the only time I hear that infamous Taylor Swift-inspiration that has caused so much controversy. Fair play to “They tell me that they love me like I’m some tourist attraction” for being one of the best lines on the entire record.

Vocally, “logical” is quite outstanding. It’s very similar to “making the bed” in both lyrics and style, but I feel as though Rodrigo believes in this one more. I…just wish “2 plus 2 equals five” wasn’t the real chorus. Everything else is cool though!

“get him back!” is very, very cool. I loved this one and all of the swagger it comes with. Not every song needs that (probably fake) studio chatter, but nonetheless, this would’ve been a big single if released as such.

“love is embarrassing” was worthy of a good pause. It sounds completely different from the rest of the record, which is a great element to have eight tracks in. Once again, some fantastic lines and production choices.

“the grudge” is another ballad and I’ve seen some online refer to it as the most SOUR-sounding track. It’s probably the most dramatic on the record but finds more footing than the other ballads. Olivia sounds absolutely fantastic.

“pretty isn’t pretty” didn’t stand out on the first listen, but it certainly did on the second. The lyrics are quite universal and relatable, and it features a fun, cinematic chorus. Mark my words: this song will likely be featured in an Amazon original series before Olivia Rodrigo’s next album is released.

The big ender is called “teenage dream”. It’s quite boring until that signature, “Driver’s License”-esque, fantastic build-up bridge. I’d say it’s done even better here. The second half of this song left me wanting more, but alas.

© Chuffmedia

GUTS has massive ups and downs. There are fantastic lines and truly terrible ones. There are great songs and some that just don’t measure up. The last thing I want to do is compare it to SOUR, which remains too much of an enigma at this point, but here goes. I genuinely think Olivia and her team should have steered clear of emulating the style of that record, although admittedly, they attempt to on a few songs. While capitalizing on previous success and aesthetics is understandable, I might be entirely wrong, but I don’t believe Olivia Rodrigo can explore this creative direction again without it becoming stale. I genuinely hope that her next record is devoid of purple, all-caps titles, and lowercase song names. I’m eager for something entirely new and different, and I believe she’s more than capable of delivering it.

…and bring back Petra Collins, of course.

Final Review: ★★★.5/5

Writer’s Highlights: vampire (video), get him back!, love is embarrassing