The stark cover of Maggie Rogers’ second album makes a statement: Gone are the twilight hues and soft focus of her 2019 debut, Heard It in a Past Life, and their suggestion of a young artist working her way through her own thrilling ascendance. That album capped off a several-year process of Rogers’ coronation as the Next Big Thing, earning her arena slots opening for Kacey Musgraves and a Best New Artist Grammy nomination. The zoomed-in black-and-white photo on the cover of Surrender lets us know that her swift coronation has now led to a more complicated reality.
It also suggests an artist who’s in it for the long haul: “You tell me you want everything, you want it fast,” Rogers sings on “Anywhere With You,” the record’s cathartic centerpiece. The narrator and their partner are desperate for a quick fix, to flee their problems and escape town, go joyriding anywhere, even I-95. But Rogers has a response: “All I ever wanted is to make something fucking last.”
Rogers’ debut was a showcase for her eclectic, prodigious ambition; she’s someone who can command banjo-strummed roots music, streaming-friendly synth-pop, and anthemic arena rock. Surrender feels less hungry to impress. It seems to reflect what the 28-year-old singer-songwriter is most interested in at this very moment, which appears to be a blend of Nineties alt-rock and turn-of-the-century shopping-mall pop. A few of the endless array of touchstones: “Criminal”-era Fiona Apple; iPod-era U2; early-2000s Pink; and most of all, Alanis Morissette, whose Jagged Little Pill seems like a primary reference point.
Rogers (a former aspiring music critic and recent divinity-school graduate) self-consciously dabbles in several tropes that are often native to second albums by hyped artists: restlessness with semi-stardom (“Honey”); nostalgia for a carefree adolescence (“Shatter”); anxiety about no longer feeling grounded (“Symphony”); a desire to escape responsibility (“Horses”). The insistence that she’s a career artist here to stay might be the most convincing.
It’s no surprise that on an album about seeking escape, Rogers has turned toward the sounds and comforts of her youth. On “Be Cool,” she daydreams about spending just one night listening to Britney Spears with old pals. On the very next song, “Shatter,” she conjures Fearless-era Taylor Swift: “We’re going back/To being 16, flying like you’ll never collapse.”
Then there’s “Begging for Rain,” on which Rogers channels Bonnie Raitt’s version of John Prine’s classic song “Angel From Montgomery”: “You work all day to find religion/And end up standing in your kitchen.” Rogers sounds a bit fed up and even more tired, as she “keep[s] waiting” on a thunderstorm to finally provide some respite. But if Maggie Rogers tells us anything on Surrender, it’s that she’s in no rush to get wherever her talent takes her.