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.

taylor-swift-lover2

“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.

Taylor-Swift-Lover

“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.

#30DaysofFavorites: Favorite Albums (6-1)

I’m celebrating turning 30 at the end of the month by posting a bunch of my favorite things on this blog and my YouTube channel. Today I’m finishing the countdown of my favorite albums. If you missed my Favorite Movie Moments, click here for the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts. If you missed my first Favorite Albums post, click here.

 

 

#6 – Full Moon Fever

Tom Petty

Full Moon

I think I ended up stealing my dad’s tape of this album when I was little, and played it over and over in my walkman. I listened to it again recently and didn’t remember much beyond the hits but Tom Petty was definitely one of my favorite artists growing up, and still is. So glad I was able to see him several times in concert before he passed away.

Favorite Track:
“Free Fallin'” was the first song I ever identified as being my “favorite song.” I don’t know exactly how old I was when I first saw Petty in concert (had to be maybe nine or ten) but I do remember staying up long enough to hear “Free Fallin'” and then immediately after falling asleep.

 

 

#5 – Bringing Down the Horse

The Wallflowers

Horse

This was the first album I ever owned. I saw the music video for “One Headlight” on MTV and instantly developed a crush on Jacob Dylan. Then when we were on a family trip to San Francisco, and my dad was doing some Christmas shopping, he asked me before going into the music store if there was any band I liked. I said I liked The Wallflowers, and so he bought me my first cd. I’m quite proud of little ten year old me for having such impeccable taste.

Favorite Track:
Though “One Headlight” will always hold a special place in my heart for introducing me to the band, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself more drawn to some of the B-tracks, like “Josephine.”

 

 

#4 – Speak Now

Taylor Swift

Speak

I mentioned in a previous post that I think Taylor Swift’s best songwriting shows up on her album Red but I think Speak Now is her most thematically cohesive, and it is my personal favorite. After burying my head in the sand for too long, I was shown the light and introduced to more of her music, particularlly this album. I loved the imagery depicted in her songs, and the fairytale life she was presenting through her music. The songwriting shows a little more maturity and demonstrates that its author has faced more of life’s disappointments. Despite all this, she still maintains a more whimsical view of the world. It’s kind of sweet to revisit the album now and see the world through the eyes of the unabashed dreamer she used to be.

Favorite Track:
“Better Than Revenge” is a song I don’t think I will ever hear Taylor Swift perform live. It’s her most unapologetic takedown of one of her “foes” and I love it for all the reasons she probably won’t ever revisit it. It’s harsh, and angry, and spiteful, and feels exactly like what you feel when you’ve been betrayed. It’s too politically incorrect for most listeners nowadays but man is it a fun revenge song to rock out to.

 

 

#3 – Talking is Hard

Walk the Moon

Talking

Walk the Moon was in the process of recording this album when I first discovered them. So this album feels more special to me because I got to see them before their big hit, and I got to experience their joy and excitement as they hit major success. Their latest album is much calmer in terms of mood, and that’s okay but I fell in love with this band because of their ridiculous high energy, and they delivered so much of that on this album.

Favorite Track:
One of the reasons I was so taken by Walk the Moon was because they played “Shut Up and Dance” at that Greek Theatre concert I mentioned in my last post, and they got the whole ampitheatre to get up and dance. As much as I love the finished recording, there is nothing quite like hearing that song live with hundreds of other fans singing along.

 

 

#2 – Death of a Bachelor

Panic! at the Disco

Death

It’s great to follow a band over the course of their career and see their different attempts at style changes and music shifts. It’s even better to see them succeed at these experimentations. Death of a Bachelor is the best Panic! at the Disco album to date. The sound of the songs is more self-assured and the lyrics are excellent. On top of that, the songs are also incredibly fun. It’s great to have music move you emotionally and speak to you on a deeper level but it’s also wonderful to want to dance to something energetic and fun. Death of a Bachelor loads itself with lots of upbeat, dance-worthy songs, and still gives some of those necessary emotional punches that you might be looking for.

Favorite Track:
“LA Devotee” is a love letter to the city of Los Angeles. Need I say more?

 

 

#1 – The Guest

Phantom Planet

Guest

This album is sixteen years old. As much as some of the other things on this list have made me feel older than I want to, this one makes me feel ancient, and it makes me feel the saddest. Phantom Planet was the first band I really discovered on my own and fell in love with. While some of the other bands on this list may have contributed to the soundtrack of my youth, Phantom Planet was the score I lived by. This band meant so much to me, and when they decided to no longer make music as “Phantom Planet,” it broke my heart. I had so many chances to see them perform live, and I will forever be grateful for being that lucky. I still love their music but now whenever I listen it’s sort of bittersweet knowing that they aren’t going to be releasing anything new together. Their music had a big impact on my life and I have enjoyed being their fan these last sixteen years.

Favorite Track:
I love all of these tracks so much but I’m going to have to go with the one that started it all. I first heard “California” on the radio one night when I was getting ready for bed. I was exhausted and about to turn it off when the song started playing. I was immediatley drawn in by that simple piano string at the begginning, and sat up in the dark, despite being ready to pass out, to hear the rest of the song. I bought the album soon after, and the rest, as they say, is history.

#30DaysofFavorites: Favorite Albums (12-7)

I’m celebrating turning 30 at the end of the month by posting a bunch of my favorite things on this blog and my YouTube channel. Today I’m continuing the countdown of my favorite albums. If you missed my Favorite Movie Moments, click here for the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts. If you missed my first Favorite Albums post, click here.

 

 

#12 – One of the Boys

Katy Perry

One of the Boys

I saw Katy Perry guest judge on American Idol in 2010 (before her current role on the show), and I thought she was hilarious and insightful, while still being critical when necessary (something she didn’t really do on this last season of Idol). It was at that point that a friend of mine mentioned really liking her music that I gave her first album a listen. I’ve been a fan ever since and have had the pleasure of seeing her live several times.

Favorite Track:
“One of the Boys” is still my favorite track on the album. I love that it is a celebration of femininity, and embracing different sides of yourself.

 

 

#11 – Red

Taylor Swift

red

It took a while for me to warm up to Taylor Swift as an artist. I didn’t buy into her life philosophy and her obsession with falling in love. Then I actually started listening to her music, and really paying attention to her lyrics. I was hooked by the time Red came out, and I thought so many of the songs on this album were well crafted and showed tremendous growth for her as a musician. I still think it has her best songwrtiting, though there are a couple of duds (“I Almost Do” and “Sad, Beautiful, Tragic,” I’m looking at you). Overall though, it’s one of my favorite albums, and it was my favorite show of hers that I’ve been to.

Favorite Track:
I mentioned I think Taylor Swift showcases her best songwriting on this album, and I think “All Too Well” is her best written song to date. It is also my favorite of hers. Her word play on it is clever, and she paints such a vivd picture that it feels like you’re right there with her, reliving the memory of this relationship.

 

 

#10 – Walk the Moon

Walk the Moon

WTM

Walk the Moon was a pleasant discovery courtesy of a Panic! at the Disco concert. They were the opening band for a show I saw at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. They had such high energy and their songs were so dang catchy that I just couldn’t resist jumping up and dancing along. I of course immediately went home and bought their album (after actually listening to it via my friend’s Spotify on the way home from the concert). I still can’t help but feel energized and want to get up and dance around whenever I listen to this album.

Favorite Track:
So even though most of the album is high energy, and I like it because of that, my actual favorite track on the album is “Fixin'” which is a little sadder but with a good hook.

 

 

#9 – Vices & Virtues

Panic! at the Disco

vices

Panic! at the Disco is another band I resisted for a long time. I think in high school I found their use of the exclamation point in their name pretentious, and then the removing of it for the second album even more so. Still, I was blown away by their songwriting on Pretty. Odd. and followed them more closely afterwards. When Vices & Virtues came out, it was as though they had combined the best parts of the first two albums into one. It wasn’t quite the frentic rock of the first album but it had more energy than the songs on the second. It found the perfect balance between the two styles, and it had an overall more hopeful sound, which I love.

Favorite Track:
“Ready to Go (Get Me Out of My Mind)” is such a bouncy, uplifting song, and it feels like something you need to play whenever you want to get pumped up for something.

 

 

#8 – Raise the Dead

Phantom Planet

dead

Phantom Planet’s last album is ten years old this year. That makes me feel really old. The concept behind the album was to base a lot of the themes and marketing on cult followings. I was happy to be a part of that cult. While it isn’t the lowest energy album, a lot of the lyrics on it deal with much darker themes, such as depression. It was a bit of a break from some of their more happy love songs but I think it felt more personal. I don’t know the story behind every song, and as obsessed as I was with the band, I don’t know what all was happening at the time. However, it feels almost as though they knew things were coming to an end, and decided to write something deeper. That connected with me very much, and not simply because they were my favorite band but because of all their albums, this is the one I felt I could relate to the most.

Favorite Track:
The title track felt like a last chance call for fans to embrace the music, and “raise” it from the dead, which is maybe where the band felt they were heading while recording. It also touches upon an idea of an inner demon type of conflict (perhaps depression, or loneliness), and again an attempt to overcome that conflict. It is dark while still being hopeful.

 

 

#7 – Teenage Dream

Katy Perry

Dream

After finally becoming a fan of her first album, I was a bit skeptical when Katy Perry started releasing singles from her follow up album. They sounded a lot more poppy and there didn’t seem to be a trace of that punk rock girl that I liked so much from One of the Boys. Then, of course I listened to the album and realized I was actually a fan of Pop music. Or at least I was a fan of Katy Perry’s style of Pop. I think this is her best album musically, and thematically. She is a bonafide Pop star but she still writes her own music, and dang if it ain’t catchy as hell. Again I was impressed with her ability to surprise me and show me that just because it’s something different than what I usually listen to doesn’t mean it isn’t good, or worthy of my attention.

Favorite Track:
As much fun as I have with “Peacock,” I’m going to have to go with “Califoria Gurls.” As a California girl myself, I can’t help but sing and dance along to this song. It’s so fun and carefree, exactly how Southern California feels sometimes.

 

 

Stop by tomorrow to see the last batch of my Favorite Albums.