Back in 2020, Gracie Abrams made her presence known in the sad-girl pop scene with the release of her EP “minor.” Three years, another EP and two headlining tours later, Abrams has captured the attention and hearts of millions with her soft beats, hushed vocals and tear-jerking lyrics.
Abrams’ highly anticipated debut album “Good Riddance” was released on Friday, but it doesn’t exactly live up to the hype. The album fits comfortably within her discography, but it sticks to her classic sound to a fault.
Abrams’ musical evolution makes sense. She has slowly traded in dreamy synths and piano chords for subdued percussions and guitar as she has transitioned into collaborating almost exclusively with songwriter and producer Aaron Dessner – a name you might recognize from Taylor Swift’s 2020 albums, “folklore” and “evermore.”
It’s always welcome when an artist branches out into different styles and sounds from their debut, but I fear Abrams backed herself into a corner on “Good Riddance.” The majority of the songs on the album are credited solely to Abrams and Dessner, and this becomes obvious about three or four tracks in. Finishing the album becomes tedious when most of the songs maintain the same quiet vocals and acoustic instrumentation.
Where the production falls short for me, the lyrics do not. I do wish that Abrams had been a little more ambitious with her choruses instead of repeating the same line, such as in “Where do we go now?” where she sings that question eight times in each chorus. However, her growth and maturity can be found in the lines of “Good Riddance,” which is satisfying to hear as someone who has been listening to her since the beginning.
Abrams tended to cast blame onto others in the past, but she is brutally honest and takes accountability for her actions in these songs. It’s apparent right off the bat with “Best” when she sings, “Used to lie to your face / Twenty times in a day” and “I wasn’t the best to you.”
The album is lyrically full of complexity, detailing the pain and back-and-forth that come from heartbreak. “Good Riddance” makes it clear that there’s never one person at fault when a relationship ends and that the feelings of sadness and longing come in waves.
Abrams has no problem admitting that she wanted to leave the relationship in “I know it won’t work” when she sings “Heard you keep the extra closet empty / In case this year / I come back and stay throughout my twenties / What if I won’t? / How am I supposed to put that gently?” However, in songs like “Full machine” and “I should hate you,” it’s clear that she is not fully over it.
My favorites are “Best,” “Difficult” and “This is what the drugs are for.” It’s noteworthy that all three have compelling bridges. Abrams has always known how to write a good bridge. Even on the songs that were losing my interest, her bridges managed to pull my wandering mind back.
The final track “Right now” deserves some recognition, too. While the production is too slow for my taste, the storytelling is strongest here. The song encapsulates Abrams’ anxieties about growing up, which is a common theme within her music as a whole. Here she finally comes to terms with it and claims “I feel like myself right now,” creating a beautiful bookmark to the end of this chapter in her discography.
In the end, what “Good Riddance” is missing the most is variety. I miss Abrams’ poppier sound that is a staple on “minor” and her previous EP, “This Is What It Feels Like,” because it complements the slower songs while still meshing with her sound overall.
“This Is What It Feels Like” struck the perfect balance by featuring softer songs from Dessner in equal numbers to more upbeat songs from producers Blake Slatkin and Joel Little. Abrams does both kinds of songs well, and I hope in the future she considers leaning into both again so that she can truly shine.
Featured photo courtesy of Justin Higuchi, Wikipedia