Taylor Swift’s ‘Lover’ Is A Step In A Better Direction

Taylor Swift released her seventh album, Lover, last week, and while it’s a definite improvement over reputation, it’s a little confusing.

Change is good. Change means an artist is growing and learning. But too much change too quickly can feel disingenuous. Going from 1989 to reputation to Lover was like watching a Ping Pong match. Even the album covers are drastically different: reputation‘s is stark and aggressive, while Lover‘s is colorful and airy. It feels like Swift simply flipped a switch. It’s hard to tell, then, how genuine any new songs are. Are these written to make people talk or to produce a hit, or are they written purely for expression?

As for the album itself, the leading singles “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down” are the most generic and least impressive. (Going back to the shallowness of “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ but you know there is a ‘me’!” is an unpleasant shock after listening to the carefully constructed phrases of “Cornelia Street.”) But fortunately for Lover, they aren’t representative of the entire album.

Many of the songs have a synthy, atmospheric feel (thank you, Jack Antonoff) that sometimes works and sometimes feels like she’s trying too hard to sound not poppy. There’s a contemporary poppy sameness that pervades much of the album, and Swift plays with speak-singing and falsettos in places that don’t sound quite right coming from her.

Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” is a return to Swift’s trademark lyrics. One of her strengths as a musician from the very start has been her gift for distilling entire stories and complex emotions into a few carefully-chosen words; her imagery is strongest on this song. In just under four minutes, Swift tells a very American story of a high school romance, completely with football games and rumors in the hallways and yearbook superlatives.

“The Archer” is also one of the highlights on the album for the simple melody and relatively stripped-back production. I’d be curious to hear a purely acoustic version, to completely take away the bells and whistles and just hear her sing.

It’s on those sorts of songs, the rawer ones, that she sounds best and sounds the most genuine. “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a collaboration with the Dixie Chicks, is the best example of that on Lover and is the strongest song by far. Again, the imagery is out in full-force—it’s so easy to see and feel hair stuck in the buttons of a winter coat and orange bottles of prescription medication. Set against a soft, elegant arrangement of guitar plucking and melancholy violins, this is a return to the country roots that she started in this industry with. It’s the kind of song Swift does best.

Swift has seemingly moved on from blaming everyone and everything around her and towards a more mature, or at least happier, tone. She’s still trying a little too hard sonically, and on the heels of reputation the lighter textures and aesthetic of Lover is a little confusing when you think about it, but hey. One step at a time. This is a good step.

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