Where debut album SOUR opened with the same riffs and routine as Elastica’s hit track Connection, the second turn from Olivia Rodrigo is fresher on unique material. Those similarities to the past and lifted influences are still present but feel assured and independent all the same. Parts of SOUR did, most of Guts does too. Those anxiety-ridden, softly sung moments of SOUR did the job and pushing forward with more of the same, but with confidence underlying it, is the obvious next step. Gone are the pop standards, an already hinted-at change of pace for Rodrigo, and in come the acoustic guitars and focus on her vocal range. Skills of the voice are put on their rightful place, the pedestal for Rodrigo ascending ever higher for the blur of emotive influences found on Guts.
Crashing, rising and falling on all-american bitch is a rare pleasure. Pair it with bad idea right? and the steady rocker relatability Rodrigo holds so engagingly bursts into life. Pauses, shock stops and starts of a feral and nostalgic appearance are channelled through this release. It is an all-encompassing release. Tearjerking pieces not through the piano-heavy work on vampire but from the evocative and heartfelt lyrical wisdom Rodrigo offers consistently. Making it sound easy comes naturally to Rodrigo, whose work on GUTS is a real spilling of them, a genuine and paralysing experience which blurs the line between relatability and intimacy. There are grounds to call lacy the best song Rodrigo has crafted so far. The whispered tones and simplicity of the instruments surrounding earnest heartbreak are stunning.
GUTS is not a heartbreak album, nor an anti-love album. It is an album which cries out for those experiences and makes clear those moments of blissful highs and staggered lows are worth experiencing. Commitments of social suicide are fast and occupy the mind on ballad of a homeschooled girl. Anyone listening in can at least appreciate, if not reflect, on their own moment of exceptionally foolish public experience. Rodrigo and her themes are broad enough to welcome listeners but exclusive enough to latch to those who need help, a hand to guide them through those experiences, recent or not. Never quite rejecting the anthemic style, as get him back showcases, Rodrigo proves she is stronger when away from it. Enough hits to warrant a wild improvement over SOUR, but still the dud patches where consistency comes to pieces. There are stretches of GUTS where everything is left on the table yet nothing comes together.
Other pieces, particularly the rousing final three tracks, the grudge, pretty isn’t it and teenage dream, depend on a sincere and explosive wall of sound. It calls on the major rise in artists striving for independence in a cocoon of sound and vibration. Sloppy Jane did it in the caves, Sam Fender brought back the return of the saxophone in pop music. Rodrigo has hit after hit on her hands and though there are duds within, the strong open and equally titan-like close is the hearty bookends to a trailing middle. Powerful work, no question about it. Lacking in the middle and preventing GUTS from being the gutsy piece it wishes to be, there are still grand and well-worked tracks within which will steer Rodrigo on as the alternative icon she is destined to be. Crash through the thin walls of your flat while prattling around to Teenage Dream. You had one years ago. Live it. It takes real guts.