Review Summary: Taylor Swift at her most comfortable and content... and at this point in her career, that's a welcome change.
For better or worse, every new Taylor Swift record fashions itself after a new persona she adapts for that particular album cycle. The self-titled debut was all about a more humble, country-inspired Taylor; Fearless
was about displaying her as a relatable underdog exploring several romantic encounters; Speak Now
was about her diving deeper into the facets of love and heartbreak; Red
straddled the line between her roots and her new glossy pop sheen; 1989
was a wholehearted embrace of Taylor’s full-blown superstar status; finally, Reputation
saw her as a darker figure with some truly hilarious attempts at being edgy. But really, none of this is surprising. Taylor Swift’s artistic output and public persona have always been synonymous with each other, which is why - starting with Red
in particular - people began to really comb through her lyrics to find any sort of vengeful or catty breakup subtext (if you can even call any of that subtext).
But it wasn’t until Reputation
that Swift’s image started crumbling under public scrutiny. She kept hammering home this point of the “old Taylor Swift” being dead, all while making several references to her old personas as if the mythology behind her music was really that
interesting. But still, she isn’t even the first person to do this exact same thing; Madonna is notorious for switching her image with every few albums or so, often to pretty decent results. Without that thread in her work, we might have never gotten a gem like Ray of Light
. So really, I wouldn’t be so upset if Taylor Swift was trying to go for that same angle… IF she still maintained more of her identity. Sadly, Reputation
made it sound as if she was lost and fumbling around for a sound to latch onto. Electropop? Synth-pop? Trap? I really don’t know. What I’m saying is that there was a serious identity crisis. But with Lover
, it looks like the era of this identity crisis may be over.
The best thing I can say about this album is that it seems like Taylor Swift has finally reconciled her old work with her new work. It’s kind of like what Red
did, but more focused and less misguided. Somehow she finds a way to explore her more subdued singer-songwriter craft with more grace and passion than ever, while still making plenty of room for catchy earworm-y pop bangers that almost never feel forced. I say “almost” because I’m still not quite on board with the two main singles of the album; “Me!” and “You Need to Calm Down” still strike me as some of the worst songs on this record, both accentuating some of Swift’s most irritating traits found on Reputation
. Clumsy lyrics, uninspired instrumental bits, and annoying “SPELLING IS FUN!” chants all make their way on those tracks, and they’re a bit of a chore to listen to. No, in the case of Lover
, it’s all about the more obscure and understated tracks.
I find it very interesting that Swift finally found herself back in country music with some of these cuts, as I was skeptical about her ever going back to that sound again. The title track is one of the best songs she’s ever written, perfectly balancing her vulnerability and confidence while being very emotionally buoyant. On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got the beautifully tender ballad “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a song about Swift’s mother being diagnosed with cancer; The Dixie Chicks do a wonderful job of fleshing out the harmonies with their background vocals. Even the more electronically-driven tracks still retain a solid emotional core; “Afterglow” combines icy synths and soaring vocals for a spacy and hypnotic effect, while “Cornelia Street” uses what I can only call ‘Reading Rainbow synths’ while delivering some subtle and understated piano work. There’s a lot of atmosphere here; “London Boy” in particular toys around with these weird bending synths that form a dreamy vibe. It actually reminds me a lot of “Needy” and “Ghostin” by Ariana Grande, both of which had that same effect.
This all points to one of the main reasons Lover
is so good: because Taylor sounds comfortable
. This is the most self-assured and happy she’s sounded in years, and while some may be hoping for something more risky or experimental, I’m pretty sure many of us didn’t even want that after what we got with Reputation
. And more importantly, this is a much more focused affair. It manages to juggle several genres, such as country, synthpop, pop rock, funk, and dream pop, but it rarely feels jumbled in the process. The only big gripe I’d level at the album is that it might be a tad too long. I really wish Swift would consider the prospect of a shorter record someday, because almost every album of hers tends to be needlessly overstuffed. But when the material is this good, it’s hard to be mad for too long. Lover
might be the best Taylor Swift album to date, as it captures many of the best aspects of each era. It has the humble guitar-centric country roots, the confident self-assured country pop of her middle career, and the glossy dance-pop of her new stuff. And it expands on each of these eras incredibly well… that’s what I call an evolution.