My expectations for Taylor Swift‘s seventh album, Lover, were low. Her previous album, Reputation, was disappointing, with its defensive lyrical stance and dark textures. The first two songs released from Lover were both concerning – lead single ‘Me!’ seemed designed to appeal to the 4-7 year old female demographic with its technicolour over-spill, Brendon Urie’s scarily enthusiastic vocals, and “hey kids, spelling is fun” interjection. Like much of Reputation, second single ‘You Need To Calm Down’ was overly focused on putting a message across, making the music secondary. There was also the possibility that Swift’s creative well had run dry – still in her twenties, she’s been a major commercial force since debuting with Taylor Swift in 2006.
Despite all of these red flags, Lover is a strong record – most of the record consists of mature and nuanced synth-pop, perfect for the audience that’s grown up with Swift. After the claustrophobia of Reputation, Lover is refreshingly joyful and breezy. Swift has characterised Lover as a “love letter to love”. The album purposefully opens with ‘I Forgot You Existed’, a statement of purpose, ignoring detractors and focusing on the positive.
At 18 tracks, Lover would be stronger pared down to a dozen songs, but the best tracks are as good as anything Swift has released. On the title track, Swift delivers a soulful torch song, different than anything she’s released before, but playing to her strengths with its typically excellent lyrics: “Swear to be over-dramatic and true to my lover.”
The dominant style on Lover is mature synth-pop, not unlike Carly Rae Jepsen’s recent albums, often created in collaboration with Jack Antonoff. ‘False God’ is buried towards the end of a long album, but it features some of Swift’s best lyrics, applying a series of religious metaphors to a relationship.
I know heaven’s a thingTaylor Swift, False God
I go there when you touch me, honey
Hell is when I fight with you
But we can patch it up good
Make confessions and we’re begging for forgiveness
Got the wine for you
Alongside the predominance of mature synth-pop, Swift’s trying different things – the upbeat ‘Paper Rings’ has a peppy Motown feel, while she takes on politics with ‘Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince’ and the great line “You play stupid games, you get stupid prizes.” More surprisingly, Swift revisits country, playing with the Dixie Chicks on ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, a low-key song about her mother’s battle with cancer.
While the choice to release the worst songs on Lover as the first two singles was an unusual ploy, Lover is a strong comeback from Swift. It presents a more mature version of Swift, helping to cement her position as one of popular music’s most accomplished song-writers.
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