Album Review: Taylor Swift Lover

A few weeks ago I posted reviews of 1989 and reputation, Taylor Swift’s last two albums, in an attempt to get pumped for the release of Lover, her newest project, which I was apprehensive about. Revisiting those albums, and let’s be honest, the earlier ones as well, did the job. On release day I went early to Target and bought the album. Several copies of it in fact as I got swept up in all the excitement of the two other ladies there for the same reason, and the Target employees setting up the displays. It reminded me of how I felt with Taylor Swift’s other releases. Anticipating new music should be fun, and there’s nothing quite like listening to a new album all the way through for the first time. Some songs will catch you right away, others need a few plays to get into. So, I gave into that feeling, and now that I’ve had some time to digest the album, let’s get into my thoughts on Lover.

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“I Forgot That You Existed”
I’ve said it before, Taylor Swift knows how to pick an album opener. This is a laid back brush off to what is presumably a former boyfriend, though it could apply to any of her “haters.” It feels effortlessly nonchalant despite the fact that the point of the song, that she’s forgotten someone existed, is impossible to do while singing about how much she doesn’t think about them any more. It’s a light track that allows the listener to easily slip into what is to come over the next seventeen tracks.

“Cruel Summer”
A solid follow up to the previous song that keeps the low-key vibe going. With eighteen tracks, a majority of which are under the three and a half minute mark, it feels like there should be a sense of urgency in the first few, that they would have fast tempos and insistent lyrics. That’s not the case, and I like that Swift doesn’t seem to be in a rush at the start of the album. She seems to be floating around this cool, carefree state of mind, and it works really well. It’s as though she’s saying, don’t worry, just let the music wash over you, and I think the best reaction is to do just that.

“Lover”
I was not a fan of this when it was first released as a single, and it was one of the reasons I was apprehensive about the album. However, it has since grown on me. I think it is a charming song celebrating a well-established relationship. Swift has so many songs about the new feelings rush of a budding romance, and the inevitable crash and burn of failed ones that it’s nice to see something celebrating the consistent glow of a successful one. It’s also the most country sounding song on the album, which appeals to me.

“The Man”
This is the first song to feel off for me on the album. Here is my issue: Taylor Swift has been a successful singer, songwriter, and businesswoman for the last fifteen years. She hasn’t yet hit 30 and she’s a multi-millionaire and has won dozens of awards. So some of the lyrics snag a bit as inauthentic/whiny. Yes, she has to deal with things a normal person would never dream of. I can’t imagine what it is like to have every aspect of your life scrutinized by the public. On the other hand, she literally marketed this album with versions that include pages from her diaries (I know because I purchased some). She is inviting the public into some very private moments, and when you do that, people don’t always react the way you want them to. Though I think she often invites the media beast in as much as she complains about it, the song is catchy.

“The Archer”
Another one of the first round of singles that I wasn’t enthusiastic about. The lyrics are fine enough, though I don’t think they are quite as brilliant as some critics have been saying. The music leaves something to be desired, and as a result the song feels bland. It falls especially flat when considering that its place on the album (track five), and its melancholic feel puts it in direct comparison to “All Too Well” from her album Red, which is by far the superior song.

“I Think He Knows”
After a couple of lackluster songs, Swift swings back into the cool groove she set up early on with this upbeat track about that rush that comes with the start of a new relationship. It’s light and airy without being trite. This also sets the trend for the rest of the album, there are some fun, energized tracks followed by a few less enthusiastic ones and so on.

“Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”
Supposedly this is Swift’s protest anthem, and I can see where people are drawing that conclusion from the lyrics. What I can appreciate about the song is that whatever that message is, it is subtle enough to pass by on the first couple of listens. This means that even those who oppose her can listen without feeling excluded. Plus, it won’t feel dated in a few years. All that said, the song is a little dystopian sounding but with a pretty catchy chorus.

“Paper Rings”
Now we get to my favorite song on the album. This is Lover’s “Stay Stay Stay” but with a pop rock twist. It sounds as though it could fit right in on the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack. It has a very early 2000s girl pop power rock vibe, and the entire thing has a frantic energy that practically screams for you to immediately jump up and dance along. To quote Swift (at the end of “Stay Stay Stay”), “It’ so fun!”

“Cornelia Street”
Despite this being a ballad, I actually really like it. It’s a soft, vulnerable confession of insecurity and fear where Swift tells her “lover” just how badly she would be hurt if they ever broke up. She knows she would be so devastated that she wouldn’t be able to go back to the places they’ve been together. It is both that beautifully unguarded admission, and a wonderfully sweet tribute to the relationship that she admits this place is so meaningful to her.

“Death by a Thousand Cuts”
After a string of pretty solid tunes, we hit another snag. Again, the song isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit blah in comparison to the others. The lyrics are actually quite good, and poetic. It’s the music that lacks anything interesting to contribute, and since this is a musical album, and not a poetry book, the song falls flat. With an album this stuffed, there were bound to be some duds.

“London Boy”
This track has the opposite problem of the previous one. The lyrics aren’t really clever but the music is fun, and it has a singsong feel that works well. It could easily cross over into the annoying side of things but it hasn’t yet been around enough for that to happen so it ends up being cute rather than cloying.

“Soon You’ll Get Better”
Right when Swift gets you thinking she’s just making a light-hearted album of love songs, she gut-punches you with this track about her mother’s struggle with breast cancer. She collaborates with the Dixie Chicks to deliver a powerful, emotionally fueled song that anyone who has dealt with the severe sickness of a loved one can relate to immediately.

“False God”
This is the first forgettable song of the album. The other mediocre tracks have had at least one thing going for them, whether it was a particular line, or that the music was snappy. This track stays at the same monotone the entire time and doesn’t have anything interesting in terms of lyrics or music to offer up in exchange.

“You Need to Calm Down”
I do not like this song. I didn’t like it when it was first released as a single, and then the video was released and I liked it even less. As part of the album, I appreciate that it has a purpose in communicating Swift’s message but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be skipping it on every replay. I have thoughts on the song but too many to hash out in a format like this. I’ll just say that I think it’s hypocritical and condescending without at least being catchy. I’m also not sure I could phrase it better than Emily Jashinsky over at The Federalist. If you’re interested in a more thorough analysis of the song and video, you should check out that article.

“Afterglow”
I think I like the chorus of this song, I just can’t quite tell because I don’t find any of the other verses interesting or memorable. I like the idea behind the song, that Swift is admitting to overreacting to something that happened in a relationship, and is owning up to it. Perhaps on further listens this will grow on me but for the time being it falls into the middling pile.

“Me!”
Nope, even in the context of the overall album, I still hate this song. Though it is nice that they removed the “Spelling is fun” line from the final album version. It was just so disappointing to hear this song after anticipating the first single off her new album, and knowing that Brendon Urie was on the track (I’m a huge Panic! at the Disco fan). I don’t think it’s original, catchy, or insightful in anyway, meaning it doesn’t make it fun to listen to, which is what I think she was going for.

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“It’s Nice to Have a Friend”
This may be the weirdest song from a Taylor Swift album, and I really like it. There’s something intriguing about the plucking effect of the music going along with Swift’s straight delivery of the lyrics. She also does this thing where she almost whispers the word “Friend” at the end of that line, as though she’s sharing a secret with the listener. It all adds up to a strangely creepy-yet-sweet vibe that oddly works.

“Daylight”
I feel like this is meant to leave more of an impact than it does. Then again, maybe it is supposed to be the fade away of the album. Swift has set up the rest of the album to feel less momentous and more laid back. This song kind of does that. She even says in it that she once thought love was “burnin’ red” but realizes now it is “golden.” Gold is a much milder color compared to red and would be more likely to be associated with good feelings and easy vibes. It isn’t bad but it also isn’t memorable and as a bookend to album, it leaves things wanting.

Lover as a whole is something of a mixed bag. It has some really strong tracks, and the theme is solidly reinforced throughout. It also has some of the worst Taylor Swift music of her seven albums, and over-a-decade long career. The second half isn’t nearly as strong as the first but it does have some creative twists that hit the mark. Overall, I like the album, and I would probably place it just above reputation, and 1989. It works as a pop album but it doesn’t quite reach the insights or emotional resonance of Red or Speak Now.

Album Review: Taylor Swift reputation

As mentioned in my review of 1989, Taylor Swift has a new album coming out this week. Back in 2017 I eagerly anticipated the release of reputation, pre-ordering multiple copies, and getting all excited for the news of her tour. This time around I find myself more disinterested in all the hubbub of the album’s release. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still listen to it, and I may even buy it. I’m just not excited by the thought of it. To try and get myself pumped for new Taylor music, I decided super last minute to review her last two albums. I already have a review of Red (and sort of her earlier albums), and now that the 1989 review is up, it’s time to take a look at reputation.

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“…Ready for It?”
Taylor Swift definitely knows how to pick an opening track that boldly sets the tone for the rest of the album. This is a darker, heavier start than any of her previous albums. With this she is loudly declaring the introduction of “New Taylor.” It’s in your face but then the bridge hits and there is an echo of “Old Taylor,” soft and hopeful. I would like this song if only for the brilliance of such a line as “And he can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor” but I actually think it is a good, solid start for the album. It can be a bit heavy on the electronic new wave sound but it has a pounding beat that works.

“End Game”
Ugh, such a strong start to the album and then it’s followed by this. When I mentioned in my 1989 review that “This Love” is my least favorite of her songs, that was because I had forgotten about this one. It has all the issues of the problematic 1989 tracks (lack of personality, uninteresting music, and generic lyrics), plus Ed Sheeran rapping. Every time I listen to the album I skip this one.

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“I Did Something Bad”
The first song in which Swift curses is a fun, self-indulgent romp. Swift excuses her “bad” behavior due to the “bad” behavior of her exes, claiming if she did something worth criticizing it’s only because the guys she was with did something wrong as well. If “…Ready for It?” was the intro to Swift’s new sound, this is an introduction to her new attitude of not giving a fuck. She’s going to do what she wants because it feels good, and in the process she might just create an unrestrained pulsing song about her exploits.

“Don’t Blame Me”
There is a a gospel quality to this, as though Swift is both praying for and confessing her sin of loving someone too strongly. Mixing in the love as a drug metaphor brings a heady, lazy feel to it that makes you want to lean back and let the music wash over you. The break from this haze comes when Swift sings, “If you walk away/I’d beg you on my knees to stay,” underlining the desperation of an addict about to lose their vice. The music and lyrics are paired perfectly, making this a solid addition the album.

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“Delicate”
All the bluster of the previous songs is stripped away here, and a softer, more timid version of Swift is revealed. She’s unsure of herself in this new relationship, and is constantly seeking reassurance and second guessing herself. It’s a quieter song after a series of loud, confident ones. The line “Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs” demonstrates this beautifully, as though she’s whispering for him to come back but she’s afraid of seeming too attached too soon, so she lets him walk away. This is a light, sweet song that feels like Swift pushing aside the curtain of her new persona to reveal to the listener that there’s still some semblance of her old self tucked away, just waiting for the right person to come along and breathe life back into her.

“Look What You Made Me Do”
Of course Swift can’t let us get too comfortable with the remnants of her past self. That’s not what this album is about, so she immediately follows the softer song with this, her first single off the album. A lot of people don’t like this song. I am not one of those people. I loved this from the first time I heard it. I thought it was sarcastic, over-the-top, and a full on spectacle. It’s not as catchy as some of her other singles but it has a persistent beat that works its way into your brain, and some of the lyrics are actually pretty clever.

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“So It Goes…”
The first fairly forgettable track on an otherwise, so far, solid album (minus “End Game”). There’s a sense of nonchalance to this song that unfortunately doesn’t achieve what it intends. Rather than feel like a carefree expression of longing and desire, the song itself feels like an aloof and indifferent cast off, forgotten seconds after it’s finished.

“Gorgeous”
This song walks a fine line between being cutesy, and annoying. Sometimes I find the drawn out singing of the title word in the chorus catchy and fun. Other times it feels too tongue-in-cheek. I’m also not quite sure how to feel about Swift’s not so subtle admission to being open to the idea of cheating (“And I got a boyfriend, he’s older than us/He’s in the club doing, I don’t know what”). Technically she hasn’t acted on that desire but she’s definitely flirting with it. On the one hand, at least she’s openly embracing that “bad girl” persona she has been pushing so hard. On the other, I’m not a fan of cheating in any sense, and don’t really like it in the media I consume. It seems odd too that she would have had a song explicitly admonishing someone doing the exact same thing (“Girl at Home”) just a few years ago, and now that she’s the one flirting it’s not such a bad thing. Oh, and the toddler recording of the title word at the beginning? That’s always annoying.

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“Getaway Car”
The best part of “Gorgeous” is that it ends and then we get “Getaway Car,” which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Swift gets back to her storytelling roots here, only this time it isn’t a romantic tale of star-crossed love made right, it’s a cautionary tale of rebound love deception with vivid imagery. Throw in some bank heist metaphors and you’ve got a pulsating whirlwind of a song.

“King of My Heart”
Sadly after the surging energy of the previous track, we hit a downhill trend on the next few, both in terms of vitality and artistry. There is nothing inherently wrong with the song, it just isn’t very interesting or innovative. The sentiment is rather sweet but it’s lost in the lackluster melody of the music. Much like track seven, “King of My Heart” is an unimpressive addition to the reputation lineup.

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“Dancing with Our Hands Tied”
Continuing along the lines of the previous track, this one feels bland. I actually like the lyrics quite a bit. The comparison of the relationship to a couple dancing while restrained, as the world breaks into chaos around them is quite poetic. The music on the other hand feels uninspired and trite.

“Dress”
With this song, of course, a lot of focus has been on the fact that Taylor Swift is openly singing about sex, tossing aside her good girl, aw-shucks image in favor of a more mature one. However, I think it’s worth noting that Swift hides some incredibly romantic moments in what is her most sexual song to date. “Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me … Even in my worst light, you saw the truth of me.” Yes, this relationship is an “adult” one but it also is one that involves a lot of trust and openness. The song manages to be sensual and sincere at the same time.

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“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
In true Swift fashion, she can’t let things sit in a particular moment too long. She follows up “Dress” with what is my favorite song off the album, and a complete sass fest. Turning an internet meme into an upbeat catchy tune is almost as brilliant as using a piece of “I’m Too Sexy” in the first single. This song is completely full of itself in the best way. It’s this album’s “Blank Space,” a parody takedown of something, or someone Swift has a beef with, and I love it.

“Call It What You Want”
If the previous song echoed one of her hits from 1989, this one echoes the closer from Red, “Begin Again.” The music is light, and the lyrics sweet without being saccharine as she describes the fresh start of a new relationship and the subject who doesn’t want to “save” her but will “run away” with her as she licks her wounds. It’s a nice way to segue into the slower finisher.

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“New Year’s Day”
As with the previous two tracks, the album’s closer is very much in the vein of one of her older songs, in this case the fan favorite “All Too Well” from Red. She uses the New Year’s holiday to paint a picture of the mundane tasks of the day after, and uses that to profess her devotion. Yes she wants to share the glamour and glitz of the party with her partner but more than that she wants to share in everyday routines with him. It’s a beautiful confession of love, and the song is a great tribute to that idea.

As much as Swift has changed as an artist over the years, her core strength lies in being able to turn her personal experiences into shared ones for her fans. Reputation doesn’t always succeed in achieving this but it is an interesting experiment that stretched her musical muscles. Overall I enjoyed it. There are a handful of songs I’m not fond of but there are more that I consistently replay, placing it slightly above 1989 in my book.

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Album Review: Taylor Swift 1989

Taylor Swift has a new album coming out this week and I have mixed feelings on it. I haven’t liked any of the songs she has released so far. In fact, to me, they range from simply dull to downright offense. As such, I have yet to decide if I will actually be purchasing the album. I am a converted T. Swift fan from several years ago (in fact, I have a whole post just about that), and I’ve been fairly loyal since. I haven’t always agreed with her philosophical sentiments but I’ve been able to enjoy her music because it’s catchy and clever. From what has been released of the new album so far, I’m afraid to say it looks like those things are missing. Only once the album is out and I can hear it in all its glory will I be able to know if my suspicions are confirmed. In the meantime, I thought I’d do a couple of reviews of her earlier albums. I have one of Red from back when it was released, and in that I briefly review her previous three albums. I never got around to reviewing 1989 or reputation so I thought I’d get to that now. Here’s what I thought of 1989.

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“Welcome to New York”
The opening track is a big, sweeping introduction to the album, and a love song of a different sort. Swift is singing about her adoration of a new city and the excitement that comes along with discovering all a new home town has to offer. There is a hopefulness infused into the lyrics and music that digs into your bones and makes you want to pump your fist to the beat. This is a solid opener, and a great way to start off her first pop album.

“Blank Space”
Taylor gets cheeky in this parody pop ditty aimed at poking fun at herself and the media’s coverage of her love life. Despite it being a parody, Swift still has the sense to pepper in some poetic lyrics. You get lines such as, “So it’s gonna be forever/Or it’s gonna go down in flames/You can tell me when it’s over/If the high was worth the pain” and “Cherry lips, crystal skies/I could show you incredible things/Stolen kisses, pretty lies.” Even though this is a takedown of her public image, there is still a romanticized view represented throughout. In using the very thing she has been criticized for (too much love and romantic imagery) to mock her critics, she ends up making what could have been a silly joke song so much deeper. Oh, and it’s catchy too.

“Style”
This is the first sign that Swift may have made a misstep with this album. The opening section is weak both lyrically and musically, though the chorus is catchy. Unfortunately the chorus is the only solid section of the song as we return to the same lackluster emotion of the intro with the second verse. “Style” is not a terrible song, it just isn’t very inspiring or memorable.

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“Out of the Woods”
Speaking of unmemorable songs, we have the next track on the album. Again, I don’t think this is a bad song per se, I just don’t think the music is very moving or noteworthy. The lyrics paint a nice picture of a budding romance, and the fragility of new love but the emotion doesn’t hit as hard as it should. There seems to be a disconnect between some of the music on this album and the lyrics, demonstrated perfectly in this track. This could be a result of Swift’s new tendency to collaborate with other musicians. Sometimes that work can turn out some amazing music but Swift has always had a very personal connection to her music and when you start adding other contributors you start to lose that personalization. I think “Out of the Woods” is a casualty of this trend.

“All You Had to Do Was Stay”
One of the most forgettable and disappointing tracks on the album, “All You Had to Do Was Stay” is simply put, bland. All of the personal details usually present in Swift’s songs are missing here, and the listener is left with a generic tune about a generic relationship. Perhaps it is meant to be broadly appealing but it falls flat. Swift is an expert at making her uniquely personal experiences connect with a wide audience. She does this by filling her songs with emotion, the kind you get when someone is telling you something deeply meaningful to them. This song loses all of that without gaining any of the benefits of a broad swung song because in addition to being impersonal, it also isn’t melodic or snappy.

“Shake It Off”
The first single off the album, and Swift’s announcement that this will be her entrance into full-on pop only music is actually a really fun song. A kissoff to her haters and critics, it is infectious and upbeat, and nearly impossible to resist bobbing along to. Yes, it is pure fluff but it is so dang catchy it doesn’t need to be poetic or insightful.

“I Wish You Would”
After a brief reprieve from mediocrity, we jump back into the bland pool with the seventh track on the album. Yet again, this isn’t an annoying or terrible song, though it’s repetitiveness can get a bit irksome. It runs into the same issue as “All You Had to Do Was Stay” in that it’s emotionless and insipid.

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“Bad Blood”
This is not a good song but it does have a catchy hook, which makes it an interesting addition to the album. Again, there is nothing personal about the song, the lyrics aren’t clever, and this time run along the lines of being clichéd. The difference here is that the music is dramatic and big, making up (slightly) for the poor lyrical quality of the song. The addition of the Kendrick Lamar rap on the video version does nothing to improve the song.

“Wildest Dreams”
Finally we get back to what was working at the beginning of the album. Though short on details, the lyrics of the song describe a doomed-from-the-start romance. Swift keeps an airy vibe to the music, which adds a sense of whimsy to the described imagery. Everything about the song is like cotton candy. It’s sugary, yet light and wispy and not overwhelming. It’s easily digestible but doesn’t leave you feeling too sickly sweet.

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“How You Get the Girl”
This song is dripping with a cloying singsong quality that just grates the nerves. It lacks any personality, choosing yet again to rely on generic lyrics with a middling melody. Upon my re-listen of the album I found I had completely forgotten about this song.

“This Love”
Sadly, I had not forgotten this song. Until recently this was my least favorite of Swift’s songs. I feel a bit like a broken record saying that it sounds bland, and lackluster, though it does. It feels as though she was aiming for a high note of emotionally charged moments with this but misses entirely. The lyrics aren’t clever and the music is monotone. Her voice barely wavers above the one level it starts at, making this perhaps the most boring-to-listen-to song on the album. What is most disappointing is that this is the only track Swift has sole credit on.

“I Know Places”
Swift gets clever with her metaphors here, painting herself and her romantic partner as foxes trying to outrun the hunters. Obviously being hounded by paparazzi is not something average people can relate to but she turns this trial into a story for the listener rather than a diary entry. The song is clever, with a good hook and pulsing beat, making it a bit of a break from the previous monotonous tracks.

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“Clean”
With the final track on the album Swift brings together what she was desperately trying to do on “This Love.” This song is brimming with emotion, and Swift and Imogen Heap wonderfully pair haunting lyrics with wistfully hopeful music. This is one of those examples of her collaborating that results in something beautiful.

 

BONUS TRACKS

“Wonderland”
It is pretty easy to see why this track didn’t make the official cut for the album. It tries a little to hard to make the Alice in Wonderland theme stick and ends up feeling clunky and immature rather than smart and insightful. It does have a fun beat though, so the music saves it a little from being a complete dud.

“You Are in Love”
I’m beginning to think maybe I just don’t like ballads, except that “All Too Well” is my favorite Swift song of all time, and it happens to be a ballad. I think I just don’t like songs with no inflection musically or emotionally throughout, which is how I would categorize this one. It’s flat, and dreary despite being about a successfully growing relationship. It should be a happy time and the song is entirely joyless.

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“New Romantics”
Perhaps the one bonus track that could have made the album’s final cut, “New Romantics” is a pop power anthem for millennial women everywhere. Here Swift showcases her ability to take her personal experiences and translate them into a song that appeals to women her age going through perhaps not the same things career wise but definitely the same emotional trials. It’s a way for her to show that despite the financial, and notoriety differences between her and her audience, she gets what it’s like to be 20 something in this day and age. See, she really is just like us.

Overall I would classify the album as mediocre. There are some pretty solid hits off of it, and despite not every song working, generally the lyric work is clever. It is definitely the weakest creatively of her work (so far) but there are some things worth the listen so I wouldn’t discredit it completely. Of her six albums to date, it is the one I return to least often for a refresher lsiten.