Review Summary: forever, and then some.
There’s a simplicity to Taylor Swift’s music that feels almost entirely interchangeable throughout her respective ‘eras.’ This is not a criticism. She’s a professional through and through, and while she’s had her issues with bloated tracklists and the odd stylistic mishap, the shape of her lyrical narratives and the clarity of her vocal tone have transferred naturally to whichever guises she’s set for herself thus far. It’s besides the point that this often seems shallow or rooted in persona rather than personality; that’s her craft. Whoever Taylor Swift was from era to era, her consistent draw was that we could always take her talents seriously without having to engage with her work as quote-unquote serious music.
To this end, her volte-face into indie folk on both this album and July’s Folklore
had ambivalent implications for her. This sound is so sober and concertedly tasteful
that she sacrificed a lot of the deceptively vital frivolities that fuelled her pop charm, producing the same kind of dull indie that a million and one dull indie bands are already excruciatingly competent at churning out like spare oxygen. It’s aesthetically impressive to hear her layering her songwriting over these sparing arrangements on individual songs, but the effect does not hold up across an entire album. Evermore
doesn’t take long to belie the kind of flaws that producer Jack Antonoff and others were able to camouflage on past outings; with this album entirely centred around Swift’s voice and lyrics, her fixation on the same basic strands of romantic subject matter wears far thinner than fifteen iterations of overlapping narrative standpoints could hope to sustain. It does not help that many of these songs are rooted in the same Aaron Dessner-patented piano economisations that turned the National’s I Am Easy To Find
into such an interminable snooze, or that Swift recycles vocal melodies across the album. Just listen to “’Tis The Damn Season”, “Tolerate It”, “Ivy” and “Long Story Short” back-to-back; the way these songs clutch onto the same shared hook (you’ll know the one) suggests exactly the kind of target audience that will be easily pleased by very little. Some writing habits are harder to break than others, I guess.
With the door largely closed to the dumb fun and melodrama of yesteryear’s Taylor Swift(s), Evermore
runs into stagnancy. In the face of all this, the sheer hamminess of the HAIM collab “No Body, No Crime”’s whodunnit narrative stands as a welcome moment of levity. Other departures from the album’s central aesthetic are mixed: “Gold Rush” is an actively grating exhibition of overplayed Antonoff-isms at their most redundant, while “Closure” grounds itself with an intermittent industrial beat that accentuates its stance of indifference to the titular theme with the sensitivity of stale cheesecake. Folklore
balanced a varied palette better, with the dreamy pop of “Mirrorball” and “Epiphany”’s foray into ambience standing comfortably among its highlights; Evermore
is overly comfortable within its framework of indie tropes and struggles to succeed outside of them.
Outside of “No Body, No Crime“, bringing in extra voices does little to remedy this. The National’s appearance on “Coney Island” is a token cameo on a listless track, while Bon Iver’s entrance on the title track is overwrought and histrionic, smothering a slowburner that Swift could have carried perfectly well by herself. On this basis, it’s perhaps no surprise that the album highlight “Dorothea” is also the track that shows her at her least inhibited, stepping bolding into the swing of a lively ballad with an exuberance largely lacking elsewhere. The tracks’s wistful what-ifs and memory lane-isms are a rare example of Swift’s conservative songwriting and familiar storytelling style resonating beyond the sum of their parts on this album. “Ivy” is another highlight for similar reasons, its banjo-backed jangle and tale of ill-advised love both falling within the realm of things Swift has been excellent at since her early years.
For all the razzle-dazzle of its surprise release, I’m struck by how hard it is to draw a lasting overall impression from the record. It adds little to the reinvention established by Folklore
and doesn’t deepen her work within this sound in particularly convincing terms. I want to credit her at least for keeping up an industrious streak, but this alone would seem patronising. That leaves us with fifteen new songs to chalk up to Taylor Swift’s Spotify page and personal capital; the world spins around. As per usual, her ability to manipulate the music industry and surrounding circuits at her own pace is more impressive than most of her actual output - this is the kind of album that clogs your newsfeed with articles about bonus track announcements within twenty-four hours of release, before you have even heard it. Kudos where it’s due; such things are not to be taken for granted. However, it is a shame that we will likely remember this record as little more than a secondary iteration of that time Taylor Swift went indie in 2020
. There’s an obvious irony behind the title, which Swift herself explores within the title-track: the 「evermore」of this song is set up as an unending depression that is eventually transfigured into a ray of optimism; its gist lies in embracing the ephemeral rather than the eternal. A strong message to be sure, but one that ends up as an unflattering synecdoche.