Alexander Moir reviews the disconnected yet commercially viable seventh attempt from pop superstar Taylor Swift, an artist who even now is struggling to find a sense of identity in the industry.
Love is a universal truth. Its heady highs can give us the strength to accomplish, to throw caution to the wind, and to be unashamedly ourselves. A shame then that on Lover, Taylor Swift’s 7th studio album, this has only been realised in parts. For every decent track, there is also an equally half-hearted effort. Running at one hour and two minutes, the eighteen-track album, for reasons lost on me, throws away all its good work with unnecessary additions that at times make Swift sound like the cash-cow Disney-fodder she apparently does not want to be.
A far cry from that faux-happy saccharine sound is undoubtedly the album’s stand out track and namesake Lover. A delicate, less-than-perfect-production allows Taylor to meld some truly great musicianship with genuinely interesting song writing. At first, the lack of compression and lashings of reverb on Swift’s voice make it seem lost when coming from Cruel Summer, the preceding track. However, after a minute of settling in, it is apparent that this is the sound the album should’ve championed. It’s only when we return to the brashness of tracks such as Paper Rings, the album’s High School Musical replica, that it’s apparent how wonderfully unfeigned Lover is – the track, not the album.
‘There is an attempt at thematic context with this album, but the cherry picking of genres, settling of scores, and disconnected song writing detract from its apparent subject.’
Moving through genres abruptly, The Man promises radio friendly sounds with a message. The track does its best to funnel in Haim-esque vibes whilst concurrently lamenting that if Taylor were a man, the negativity which usually follows her around, would cease to exist. It appears to be a concerted effort, yet still in this increasingly turbulent time of society fighting for equality, it seems a waste that Taylor has focussed on herself, and not the bigger picture. Nothing signifies the Taylor love-in more than the incredibly apt ME!I, which could have been taken straight from the latest Coca-Cola campaign with its accessible melody and well to do instrumentation – a track which attempts to tick as many boxes as it possibly can.
Conversely, half of this album is (sort of) killer and not filler. Harnessing that Haim sound again, a second attempt is made with Afterglow. A reflective and powerfully unguarded glimpse into a relationship riddled with self-doubt. It’s here where Swift’s writing, or at least part of it as Afterglow was co-authored by Louis Bell and Adam King Feeney, really shines. A shame then, that the autotune can be heard loud and clear on the downward inflection of ‘head’ in the chorus.
That unguarded nature is on show again in the frightfully delicate Soon You’ll Get Better. Partnering with the Dixie Chicks, the country timbre from albums such as Speak Now, is given room to demonstrate that Swift’s talents lie away from trying to keep up with the charts. The song is speculated to be about her mother’s battle with cancer and makes for one of the more real moments within the album.
‘Swift’s talents lie away from trying to keep up with the charts.’
A further saving grace is London Boy. A track with unabashed furore for her beau, Joe Alwyn. With clever lyrics and an openness which is incredibly welcome at this point in the album, Swift directs her love into a creative channel, and it pays off. Further still, You Need to Calm Down, is for obvious reasons, the killer single from Lover. A fantastic effort at the awareness raising that was attempted in The Man. This time, Swift constructs an outwardly facing denunciation of those who perpetuate their often hateful political fulminations online. The track has a strong hook and a stronger spirt which does manage to communicate a serious message with the audience, even if it is hiding under a not-so-serious sound.
The reality then is that this is an artist who is unsure of herself. There is an attempt at thematic context with this album, but the cherry picking of genres, settling of scores (even after Reputation), and disconnected song writing detract from its apparent subject of ‘love’, or at least some notion of it. Often falling foul of the hubristic belief of self-proclaimed genius which runs rampant through Lover, on the 7th attempt, Swift is yet to make a name for herself critically. There is no doubt that habitually, Lover will be a commercial success, but Taylor Swift is still an artist that does not want to rock the boat and who relies ever closely on past winning formulas. After all, if it ain’t broke, then why even bother fixing it?