Maggie Rogers – Surrender
It’s dawned on me that I discovered Maggie Rogers in both the best and the worst way possible. Back in 2019 I decided to nab a spot right at the front of a festival main stage to watch her perform, despite not knowing a single song of hers at the time. After all, what are festivals for if not discovering new people – may as well check her out, right? What followed was hands down one of the best live sets I’ve ever seen in my life. It was like a religious experience. A wave of pure positive energy radiated through the crowd and left everyone enraptured. She was a force of nature, twirling across the stage like a whirlwind. Naturally, as soon as I got home, the first thing I did was stream her debut album Heard It In A Past Life. I was desperate to chase that high, but sadly I didn’t find it in those studio recordings. It’s a great album, one I often find myself returning to, but it fails to capture the raw reckless abandon of her live performances. That’s just the way of the world; some acts rely on a certain level of studio polish to make their songs complete, some acts sound the same live as on the album, and for acts like Maggie their music is wild and feral and doesn’t fare well in the captivity of studio versions. Right off the bat however, her sophomore record Surrender goes some way to bridge that gap.
Written in the shadow of the pandemic, it’s an album that’s acutely aware of the seemingly ever accelerating downward spiral of society, and how we’ve been repressing all the fear and ire surrounding the path we’ve all found ourselves on (“I’m scared and I’ve got all this anger trapped so deep inside, That started burning the summer my heroes died, And I just wish that I could hear a new Bowie again“). Tackling all that head on would be like running face first at a brick wall. But when it all gets too much, there’s a defence mechanism we can lean on if we’re just have courage enough to take the plunge: not caring anymore. Not in a callous, hard-hearted sense, rather in a way that tears down barriers and inhibitions. Everything’s gone to shit, and none of us are getting out of here alive, so you may as well let yourself feel what joy you can find as deeply as possible. Love without fear, dance like no one is watching, feel no shame for whatever passion you hold that keeps you from coming undone. Surrender, not to a world trying to break you down, but to the feelings in your heart that have been kept caged for far too long.
Maggie’s philosophy of “feral joy” really ups the energy levels of this new record, and it comes out swinging with some of its biggest numbers right from the off. The expansive alt rock hum of the aptly titled opener ‘Overdrive’ contrasts a gritty backdrop with bright melodies, while the earworm lead single ‘That’s Where I Am’ grows on you a little more with each listen with its infectious chorus and uplifting lyricism about love in bloom. The opening drums of ‘Want Want’ have real bite, grabbing you by the collar and pulling you in to embrace the enthralling electropop groove of this soaring carnal anthem. While ‘Anywhere With You’ builds from acoustic balladry to deliver some of her most passionate vocals to date, culminating in a top-of-your-lungs final chorus: “You tell me that forever couldn’t come too soon, If I’m gonna lose my mind, I’m gonna lose it with you, You tell me you want everything, you want it fast, But all I’ve ever wanted is to make something fucking last“.
The album does lose a bit of steam in the latter half, and its here that the cracks start to show. At times Surrender sits at an improbable crossroads of being both too polished and too messy at the same time. While it’s great to hear this new record take a walk on the wild side, there’s still room to go further, and at times I found myself longing for the pop production to be reined in just a tad to let the album better embrace the rough edges that it preaches. Occasionally however those edges aren’t polished, but rather buried under a pile of unnecessary guff, most notably on ‘I’ve Got A Friend’. Its lyrics feel clumsy, each line stumbling over one another, and the haphazard piano dumped overtop does nothing to alleviate the problem.
Even so, the record’s B side is certainly not without its charms (although I’d have loved for stand-alone single ‘Love You For A Long Time’ to have made an appearance also). Closing track ‘Different Kind Of World’ launches from stripped back folk into a grand crescendo that reminds me of Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘I Know The End’, while the electrifying album highlight ‘Shatter’ is a barely contained tempest of synthpop splendour which I’m simply dying to hear live. It’s the first time I’ve felt the exhilaration of seeing her live that first time captured on an album; that fire-in-your-veins, “fuck the world, this moment is all that matters” kind of reckless abandon. The best way to experience Maggie Rogers is still to see her live, no question, but Surrender comes closer to capturing that experience than I ever anticipated it would.