Album Reviews

Olivia Rodrigo – Guts

(Geffen) UK release date: 8 September 2023

An immensely confident and assured record which confirms that its creator is here for the long-term

Olivia Rodrigo - Guts If you didn’t already think that Olivia Rodrigo was a bit different from your usual Disney star turned teen popstar, then her duet with Lily Allen at last year’s Glastonbury may have convinced you otherwise. At a time of increased political division, the then 19-year-old recited the names of the Supreme Court judges who had overruled the landmark abortion case Roe vs Wade – “we HATE you”, and then launched into a cover of Allen’s Fuck You.

Mainstream pop doesn’t usually take risks like that, preparing to stay strongly apolitical and desperate not to offend anyone – but with that simple two fingers to the American establishment, Rodrigo cemented herself firmly at the front of the new wave of teen pop. And just three years previously, she was starring in a TV version of High School Musical.

Rodrigo’s debut album Sour was a genuine phenomenon – going four times Platinum and containing songs like Drivers Licence and Good 4 U which became near permanent fixtures in the charts. Guts is as close a near-perfect follow up that you can imagine: a hugely fun, sweary 39 minute romp that takes in the price of fame, unsuitable boyfriends and the kind of teenage insecurity that everyone over the age of 12 can identify with, whether they’re international pop stars or not.

Most importantly, it’s crammed with infectious songs – All American Bitch begins with a pretty plucked acoustic guitar before it transforms into a pop-punk anthem with a chorus destined to be sung by a million teenage girls (“I know my age and I act like it… I know my place and this is it”). It even features a blood-curdling scream to rival Black Francis, and if that doesn’t grab your attention, then nothing will.

There’s a lot of humour scattered over Guts, mostly aimed at Rodrigo’s own love life. Bad Idea, Right? is a knowingly funny look at reconnecting with a terrible ex-boyfriend (“I only see him as a friend, just tripped and fell into his bed”) blessed with a exhilaratingly catchy chorus, while Love Is Embarrassing is a self-deprecating synth anthem with an opening line of “I told my friends you were the one, after I’d known you for like a month”.

Like her debut, the musical templates remain comforting if familiar – there are nods to the likes of Avril Lavigne and (of course) Taylor Swift, while the big piano ballads like Lacy and The Grudge bring to mind that other great second album in recent years, Lorde‘s Melodrama. Only the slightly ill-advised attempt at rapping on Get Him Back falls a bit flat, but even that comes complete with a gloriously singalong chorus.

Underneath all the self-deprecating humour though, there’s a river of anger and vulnerability bubbling under the surface. Ballad Of A Homeschooled Girl may start unexpectedly like a Weezer track but deals with low self-esteem (“I hate all my clothes, feels like my skin doesn’t fit right over my bones”) and “social suicide”. The much-discussed Vampire may or may not be about Rodrigo’s former friend Swift (Rodrigo has said it’s not) but it works equally well as a scathing, furious putdown of manipulative older men – “the way you sold me for parts, you bloodsucker, fame fucker, bleeding me dry like a god damn vampire”.

Making The Bed talks of the shallowness of fame – full of “fair weather friends” and being treated like a “tourist attraction”, and the closing Teenage Dream is a big piano-based anthem asking “when am I gonna stop being a pretty young thing to guys” and posits the question “when does wide-eyed attraction and all good intentions start to not be enough”. Rodrigo has discussed her admiration for Tori Amos in the past, and it’s a hint at an intriguing new direction in the future.

It’s a fine note on which to end an album with a lot of hidden depth – and one that’s likely to appeal to people way beyond its target demographic. Guts is an immensely confident and assured record which confirms that Olivia Rodrigo is here for the long-term.

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