Review Summary: I took the long way home
Let’s start by the beginning. I have read many reviews on this album before writing my own, and while most of them set the beginning of the story behind Lover, and the beginning of the actual album as well, in the Kim/Kanye feud, this review will be doing no such thing. Exploring the feud is essencially pointless - it doesn't really matter what song is about who, art is not about facts, it's about heart, and that's where we begin this review.
I tried locating the heart of Lover as I listened to it one, three, five times, the album making less and less sense to me, its concept falling apart. Then I found it in a song that doesn't really highlight much - Death By A Thousand Cuts. See, as we all know, Taylor Swift started her career doing country music. Back then, many pointed out that her songs did have a pop grip to them, and as she moved to pop it made sense because of that. 1989 was the most soulless of her catalog, it's strict slickness abandoned three years later for the rap beats in Reputation. The reason why I couldn't locate the heart of Lover at first was because it is a bit of an identity crisis. The style is all over the place and you try to understand the relevancy of these 18 track in the music world.
But then there's Death By A Thousand Cuts. A pop song on piano and synth elements, with a rapped bridge, but the heart of it could easily fit in her very first album. Once you get that it all makes sense. Taylor Swift is more than capable of finding success in any genre, but what she should be doing is what this album is trying to understand as it fumbles through them all until finding that one song that is a mixed bag that works, and more importantly, encapsulates the artist's true heart at the same time.
Then, the other songs that have met the promise set by Death By A Thousand Cuts start to look clearer. Of them all, title track Lover is the highest achievement, a folk ballad that feels so intimate, so free and so Taylor Swift all at once. In the bridge we are blessed with the most rich - and long - lyricism we have heard from her in a while (Ladies and gentlemen will you please stand / with every guitar string scar on my hands / I take this magnetic force of a man to be my... lover! / My heart's been borrowed and yours has been blue / all's well that ends well to end up with you / swear to be overdramatic and true to my... lover! / And you'll save all your dirtiest jokes for me / and at every table / I'll save you a seat... lover). While the atmospheric mist in Lover is pure swaying and romance, the similar production used in The Archer gets much more serious, with the songwriter reflecting about her inner need to break relationships and the implications of this in her mental state. It's devastatingly intense, and there's a bit of brilliance in how the energy builds up continuously until it just ends - just like arrows do.
Paper Rings elevates the mood all the way up. It's a fast, fun rock-ish pop, full of the same reverberation effect found in the previously mentioned tracks and filled with some pretty clever turn of phrases that many love in Swift's work. Cruel Summer and Cornelia Street are both standout tracks, bringing back all the dreamy synth pop we saw in 1989, but now with a (country, I'd argue) heart. Afterglow, It's Nice to Have A Friend and Daylight complete the cohesion of Lover.
Other tracks fall farther away from Death By A Thousand Cuts' reach, but still render some pretty good moments regardless. I Forgot That You Existed is a breezy, carefree "I got over it" moment, and interestingly, all it's missing is a guitar for it to be the sonic twin of We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together's verses section. Which I consider to be a compliment, albeit a frustrating one. London Boy is kinda fun, repeating the hip hop and rap from Reputation but with far less impact. Soon You'll Get Better reminds you that pop does not really have a soul of its own, coming in full folk country glory. Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince tries going for a haunted sound that comes out flat, and for political criticism that just gets lost in a teenage love metaphor that makes little sense. ME!, The Man and You Need to Calm Down are upbeat synth pop songs that seem to be trying too hard on the upbeat part. But the third one is mostly saved by its smart and relevant lyrics.
In conclusion, False God is pretty weird.