Taylor Swift - Lover

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Taylor Swift swaps out the darker tones from her 2017 reputation for something much more rose colored in contrast. Where reputation had a subtly spiteful edge to it, Lover, Swift’s seventh album, is thoroughly romantic. Like any Swift album prior, this is a perfectly polished, glossy package armed with an array of sure-fire inescapable hit singles. In this iteration of Taylor Swift, she sounds cheerful and exuberant with the vast majority of the album channeling a bubbling, vivacious quality.

Lover starts things off with a decent if not forgettable note with “I Forgot That You Existed,” a light, springy synth-pop number. It’s a song about letting go of past feuds and finding peace with the present, a theme that seemingly permeates throughout the record.

Following the opening track, however, is some of the most interesting and enjoyable music Swift has ever put out. “Cruel Summer” puts together an unlikely partnership as Swift enlists production assistance from none other than Annie Clark of St. Vincent. With it’s lush, spacious production and unfurling falsetto climaxes, St. Vincent’s influences are readily apparent. “The Archer” is an emotive, slow burning love ballad that is acutely introspective throughout: “And I cut off my nose just to spite my face/Then I hate my reflection for years and years.”

Then there is the exceptional title track. It’s a pure win with Swift reaching new heights in her songwriting capabilities. She gives off an impassioned, raw, and vulnerable performance on top of an impeccably arranged collection of piano, strings, and guitar. “Can we always be this close forever and ever?” she asks. This exciting string of quality songs is rudely interrupted, however, by the underwhelming “The Man,” a rather difficult song to talk about. On one hand, the messaging is spot on and urgent. The lyrics question the unequal standard men and women face in the limelight, Swift imagining how her reputation might differ if she was of the opposite gender. The problem is that she doesn’t add anything new or interesting to this already pertinent conversation. Instead Swift strings together a collection of obvious, heavy-handed observations without any personal nuance. Important subject matter doesn’t always equate to a good song. In fact, “The Man” is quite boring and void of musical distinction.

The middle section and onward is when things start to fall apart, presenting one undercooked cut after another. “Paper Rings” is an overly sugary attempt at a pop-punk tune. “Death by a Thousand Cuts” is a bland misfire with its twinkly guitar backdrop. It falls flat melodically, instrumentally, and lyrically. There just isn’t anything exciting going on at all.  “Cornelia Street” tries to do a lot that the aforementioned “Cruel Summer” had. The problem is that “Cornelia Street” doesn’t have the sharp songwriting of the former. The big, sprawling falsetto moments don’t feel as earned or impactful. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” is a nice attempt by Swift to branch out with its ghostly choral vocals and steel drums. But take away the extra dressing, and this is another run-of-the mill, unexciting pop tune. The peppy “London Boy” with its laundry list of British stereotypes doesn’t have the wit Taylor thinks it has.

Amongst the rougher patches of Lover, there is one shining moment of respite. “Soon You’ll Get Better” is a heartbreaking ode to Swift’s mother who has been in an ongoing battle with cancer. Feelings of hurt and longing pour through every note of this minimalist acoustic ballad. A massive influence for Taylor, the Dixie Chicks provide assistance on the harmonies.

Considering Lover’s  lead singles, pushed back far into the tracklisting, the expectations of this album for many people, myself included, were not high. Those singles were bad. Just truly awful. “ME!” featuring Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco is overproduced and banal. Its tacky production and fairy-tale chorus makes it sound like the jingle to a Fourth of July sale at Walmart. “You Need to Calm Down” is convoluted in its messaging to say the least. On one hand, it sounds like a half-baked attempt to punch back at critics and Internet trolls, but the lyrics are shockingly trite and clunky. Take for example the dreadful line “you're takin' shots at me like it's Patrón/And I'm just like, damn, it's 7 AM.” Where “You Need to Calm Down” is self-defensive, it also apparently functions as a weak olive branch to the LGBT community. “Cause shade never made anybody less gay,” ??

In a time when music is most widely consumed through streaming, labels are aware that the best way to generate revenue is to present as many things to click on as possible. That’s why Lover is so painfully long. If Taylor Swift had cut the tracklisting in half, Lover would be a pretty solid project. Instead, Swift’s latest release is an uneven, overstuffed mess with a few definite highs, a few definite lows, and lot of time spent dragging along with no clear end game. For much of the record, Taylor Swift is not trying to push any pop boundary. She is content with what has made her so successful in the past. Lover is a perfectly fine and innocuous pop album, and that might be its greatest flaw.

 Grade: C-