Maggie Rogers – ‘Surrender’ review: a gut-punching celebration of being alive

Faced with the numbness and antipathy of modern life, Maggie Rogers fights back with feeling

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Listening to ‘Surrender’ feels like the blood rushing back into your legs as you start to run. Like your heart lifting in your ribcage. Like coming up for air after holding your breath. It feels like letting life back in. 

This is just as Maggie Rogers intended it to feel. “Can you let go?” she teased on the album trailer, “can you feel it all?” ‘Surrender’ is a call to arms to do just that. Every choice on the album follows feeling, from the humid drums and distortion that give each song legs, to the freewheeling vocal delivery across the piece. It’s Maggie at her most intentional and human yet. 

Rogers’ debut album ‘Heard It In A Past Life’ was a portrait of the young artist’s struggle with overnight stardom, an attempt to ground herself in an identity and value system as she found herself thrust into a fledgling music career just out of college. ‘Surrender’ is, by comparison, more internal and yet also more agnostic, an album as much about specific moments in Rogers’ life as it is about the outside world. The album plays both extremes deftly and seamlessly, with Rogers’ songwriting hand more specific yet resonant than ever. 

Opener ‘Overdrive’ sounds like it’s about everything, a knowing, stratospheric “big song” that sounds the way a city must look from above, tied together brilliantly by a simple but million-dollar piano riff. Somehow both loud and quiet, powerful yet restrained, it sets the tone for the rest of the album to follow – an expression of all the feelings we can’t put to words but find beautiful anyway. 

Over the pandemic, Rogers quietly earned a master’s in religion and public life from Harvard Divinity School, where she studied the connection between spirituality and live music. It’s clear that she’s designed these songs with the ecstasy and exaltation of performing them live in mind, from the energy, the chanting, and the way they climb and climb then explode at their peak. ‘Horses’ is one such song, a call to the wild that repeats just enough to become hypnotic. 

Rogers breaks free from the constraints of traditional lyrical form, with her words at their most stream of consciousness and cerebral yet. With its first line alone, ‘Be Cool’ offers one of the most razor-sharp lyrics on the album: “Sick of the sound of self-importance I fucked off for a month or two / Needed a summer just to be a teenager drunk on the month of June”. Buzzing with faraway distortion, the song is thick with the feeling of New York exhaust and traffic, a love letter to the best friends you link arms and swoon through the street with.

The album’s sound is a huge departure from her last, replacing wind chimes and nature samples with sticky metallic drums and harsh city instrumentation. Still, ’Begging For Rain’ takes us back to those earthy campfire tones: “You work all day to find religion and end up standing in your kitchen / Wondering bout the way its always been”, Maggie sings for deliverance. For how cold and unfeeling it can be to live in the world today, the open-hearted earnestness of these songs has never been more necessary.

It’s not a perfect album. ’I’ve Got A Friend’ doesn’t really have a place (although the lyrical portraits of her friends are beautiful), and ‘Honey’ sounds like a reprise of ‘Overdrive’ without adding much more. But it’s not claiming to be perfect. It’s full of life, in all its mess and excess –our voices break; we shout the same words again and again in the hope that they’ll mean something if we say them enough; we sit by the water and sing for salvation. ‘Surrender’ shows us the way back. 

Buy ‘Surrender’ on vinyl for £23.99

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REVIEW OVERVIEW
Maggie Rogers – 'Surrender'