If there’s been one deserving criticism of Maggie Rogers since Pharrell Williams famously likened the then-NYU student to the Wu-Tang Clan in 2016, it’s that the singer-songwriter entered the pop zeitgeist too fully formed. Sure, songs from the Maryland-born artist’s anticipated debut LP, 2019’s Heard It in a Past Life, were deftly penned — a sharp cross-section of her folk and soul-heavy upbringing and later French club obsessions. But they also were rightly dinged for being overproduced. As with so many buzzy debuts, a major label’s efforts to prove a young star’s maturity breeds contrivance.
Flash forward three years, much of which Rogers spent self-sequestering on the coast of Maine, and the singer, now 28, returns Friday with Surrender, an emphatic and generally more unbuttoned sophomore project.
The “surrender” here appears to be two-pronged: First, a submission to the songwriting process itself, as this record is markedly more explorative than the last, particularly in its crunching British rock sensibilities — perhaps part and parcel of the lone producer (other than Rogers) being the well-traveled U.K. collaborator Kid Harpoon (Harry Styles, Florence + the Machine), who co-wrote Rogers’ biggest hit “Light On.”
Yet the more profound surrender here is to life’s avalanche — that crushing cascade of romance, fear, desire, anger, desperation and doom-scrolling. It all sparks a new restlessness in Rogers: Many of the album’s most affecting moments accompany her urgency to hit the road.
“Wherever you go, that’s where I am,” she declares on the booming, hand-clapping lead single “That’s Where I Am,” a note of everlasting love laid over complex synth and drum patterns that upon first listen may seem busy, but later become welcome intricacies; shrewd but not overcooked.
The cresting track “Anywhere With You,” short for its hook “I’ll go anywhere with you,” — do you spot the pattern? — explodes in its rock-steady bridge, a Killers-do-Springsteen maximalist moment, with Rogers slipping in beats of paranoia and insecurity: “Would you tell me if I ever started holding you back? / Would you talk me off the guard rail of my panic attack?”
And on the acoustic folk-pop tune “Horses,” Rogers begs a lover in the refrain: “Would you come with me or would you resist / Oh, could you just give in?” The singer’s vocal performance here is especially resounding — any reservations over her ability to full-throat belt were surrendered on this album, too — though the five-minute song could’ve withstood some modulation in the final few choruses to erase the repetition.
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Nowhere is Surrender more exhilarating than on “Shatter,” a rollicking rock banger with heavily distorted guitars worthy of a Wolf Alice or Arctic Monkeys jam. The character and texture in Rogers’ seething performance here is unparalleled, exorcizing feelings of frustration and longing: “I don’t really care if it nearly kills me / I’d give you the world if you asked me to.” The deliciously melodramatic bridge lifts this song as Rogers pleads: “I just wish that I could hear a new Bowie again, again, again.” Florence Welch sings backing vocals here; a fun swap as Rogers also sang on Florence’s Dance Fever album, released in May.
Elsewhere, “Want Want” overflows with crunchy guitar bombast — much louder than anything on Heard It — and a tongue-twisting hook as Rogers indulges in her most scintillating appetites: “When we’re cheek to cheek / I feel it in my teeth / And it’s too good to resist.” The pumping sound is highly reminiscent of Red Hearse, the side project that super-producer Jack Antonoff, songwriter Sam Dew and Kendrick Lamar’s right-hand man Sounwave released in 2019 (somehow Antonoff, who seems to be everywhere in pop rock, did not contribute to this album).
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The album opener “Overdrive” is a big, encompassing entré heavy on romantic tumult and light on identity — think middling Kings of Leon or late-stage Mumford & Sons. Later, “I’ve Got a Friend” reclaims a bit of the Carole King soul secured on Heard It, landing an ode to a very, very close pal, intimate enough to overshare she “masturbates to Rob Pattinson staring at the wall.” Ha! Grammy-winning jazz singer and pianist Jon Batiste, who plays on several songs, adds some fleeting Billy Joel-ish piano breaks here, which do well to boost the tune’s folksy backroom mood and further fade any lingering self-seriousness around Rogers.
While Surrender is surely a vibrant and provocative studio album, the starkest difference should be seen when Maggie Rogers brings these new jams to the stage this fall. On her 2019 headlining tour, she proved herself as an impassioned performer, who only needed more worthy material. Now she’s got it, with songs designed to blow people away — all of it shepherded by an artist who now seems leagues more comfortable in her own skin.
She may be anxious about the future, she may be a hopeless romantic, she may be a little fucked up, but Maggie Rogers faces it all without fear, as revealed in the album’s crescendoing finale “A Different Kind of World: “ My hands are shaking, palms are sweating thinking ‘bout the state of the world / But when we’re riding all together, I’m a different kind of girl.”