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Album Review: ‘GUTS’ by Olivia Rodrigo

Over two years after releasing her critically acclaimed debut album, “SOUR,” Olivia Rodrigo has returned -- and she’s ready to spill her “GUTS” on this new record.

While it’s not the instant classic “SOUR” was, “GUTS” is a solid expansion to Rodrigo’s discography, giving us a little update on her life since we last heard from her.

The album leans more into the rock inspirations heard on “SOUR,” adding a more early 2000s punk feel to Rodrigo’s sound. The album’s opener, “all-american b----,” both lays the groundwork for this new sound that is heard throughout the album and mirrors the opener on Rodrigo’s first album, “brutal.” 

Beginning with an understated guitar riff and the lyrics, “I am light as a feather and as stiff as a board,” “all-american b----” sets the scene for Rodrigo’s feeling on womanhood and the double standard many American women face.

As for things that haven’t changed since we last heard from Rodrigo, it appears she may have continued dating guys that don’t treat her well, at least according to both lead singles and the next two tracks, “bad idea right?” and “vampire.” 

“bad idea right?” explores Rodrigo’s decision to sleep with an ex-boyfriend, knowing full well it’s a “bad idea,” but lying to herself and her friends about her motivations. It’s a genuinely fun listening experience and an album highlight. 

“vampire” also mirrors a song from “SOUR,” “drivers license,” in that they’re both lead singles on their respective albums and tell the story of a breakup as the song progressively starts to feel and sound more intense. 

“vampire” is an interesting piece of pop music, managing to sound like both an Adele song and an ABBA song without feeling too dissonant. These two tracks are probably among the best on the album, and were great choices as singles to represent the two sides of “GUTS.”

The only crime committed by “GUTS” is having a few boring songs. “lacy,”logical” and “love is embarrassing” all have melodies that aren’t particularly memorable or interesting. While “pretty isn’t pretty” is mildly catchy and well-produced by collaborator Daniel Nigro, it suffers from feeling like a less effective version of “jealousy, jealousy” from “SOUR.” 

The sentiment in “pretty isn’t pretty” is certainly there, but the lyrics and rhythm aren’t necessarily novel. Given that Rodrigo makes music almost primarily for teenage girls (and teenage girls in their twenties), the idea of not being pretty enough almost feels like a quota that needed to be filled on an album like this.

Other album highlights include “get him back!” and “making the bed,” with both tracks letting us know that Rodrigo is no longer too insecure to drink like she was two years ago, albeit in completely different ways. “get him back!” is arguably the best non-single on the album, describing an ex of Rodrigo’s that wasn’t necessarily the best partner, but with whom she had a lot of fun.

“making the bed” serves as a much more serious turn on the album, along with “the grudge” and “teenage dream.” “making the bed” is an interesting look at Rodrigo’s thoughts on some of her newer behaviors, like drinking and pushing people away. “the grudge” includes some of the best lyricism on “GUTS,” with stingers like “We both drew blood, but man, those cuts were never equal” and “Your flower’s filled with vitriol.”

The album ends with a solid ballad “teenage dream,” describing Rodrigo’s wishes to be taken seriously despite her age. Although people in her life want her to take on adult responsibilities, and perhaps older romantic partners want her to act more their age, she still feels belittled because of the fact that she’s a teenager at the time of writing the song. It’s a powerful way to end an album filled with wishes and woes that could only be made by someone her age.

While it may not carry the same weight as Rodrigo’s debut album, “GUTS” is a solid follow-up and an interesting look at how Rodrigo’s life has progressed in two years. It’s also nice to hear Rodrigo play with some new sounds and lean in further to what we’ve already heard from her. “GUTS” is likely to become a mainstay in pop-rock for its fun rhythms and heartfelt ballads.

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