Album Review: Taylor Swift Returns To The Light On ‘Lover’
Taylor Swift belatedly lays out the mission statement for Lover on its final track. As “Daylight,” a thoughtful and lushly composed love song, closes, the 29-year-old delivers a spoken outro. “I wanna be defined by the things that I love not the things I hate,” she muses. “I just think that you are what you love.” That’s abundantly evident from one listen to the 18-song collection. Released on August 23, her seventh LP signifies a return to the starry-eyed lyrics and lush sounds we’ve come to expect from one of music’s biggest stars.
It’s a welcome burst of bright colors and positivity following the coal-black theatrics of 2017’s Reputation. Lead single “ME!,” which admittedly sounds sophomoric and out of place on the tracklist, made that very obvious. But Taylor perfectly bridges the gap between projects with “I Forgot That You Existed.” The cheeky opener quite literally leaves naysayers in her dust. “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference,” she cooly sings. Considering the vividness with which she usually writes, that cuts deep.
The declaration of disinterest could lose some veracity considering the hater-referencing “You Need To Calm Down.” But even there, Taylor never reaches the frustration that lit “Look What You Made Me Do.” Instead, it aligns more closely to “Shake It Off.” And the thematic transition continues on synth-pop gem “Cruel Summer.” Over beats crafted alongside Jack Antonoff, Taylor reframes those difficult months that led up to her last album. The emotional pallet remains blue, but now she recognizes spending the time with boyfriend Joe Alwyn.
Perhaps unsurprisingly considering the title, their relationship seems to provide inspiration for a sizable portion of the album. For instance, there’s the whimsical title track. “There’s a dazzling haze, a mysterious way about you, dear. Have I know you 20 seconds or 20 years,” she asks on the waltz-like production. She’s equally enamored on buzz track “The Archer.” Over a fluttering beat reminiscent of a heartbeat and graceful synths, the diva compares previous lovers to combatants. But instead of hardening herself to the battlefield of love, she prepares to take the leap once again.
Then there’s “I Think He Knows,” a frothy, synth-pop explosion that wouldn’t sound out of place on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Dedicated. “Lyrical smile, indigo eyes, hand on my thigh. We could follow the sparks, I’ll drive,” she coos on the lovesick track. A personal favorite is “Paper Rings.” This one comes to life with the addition of guitar strings and one of the most instant choruses of the bunch. “I like shiny things, but I’d marry you with paper rings. Uh huh, that’s right. Darling, you’re the one I want,” she chants. “And I hate accidents, except when we went from friends to this.”
“London Boy” is just as fun. “They say home is where the heart is, but God I love the English,” she sings in reference to her man. Toss in a reference to Spice Girls, and this is a winning formula. Taylor returns to New York City on the aptly titled “Cornelia Street.” The wistful love song sees her struggling to imagine the end of a relationship. “And I hope I never lose you, hope it never ends. I’d never walk Cornelia Street again,” she admits.
In comparison, “False God” is a sexy and atmospheric anthem. “The altar is my hips. Even if it’s a false god, we’d still worship this love,” she coos as a saxophone plays behind her. It’s the sort of slow-burner that you wouldn’t expect from Taylor Swift, but it gets better with every listen. The same applies to “It’s Nice To Have A Friend.” Laying her voice over steel drums, Taylor depicts the transition from friends to lovers. The addition of a choir on the chorus makes it particularly compelling.
Young love is also up for discussion on the brilliantly titled “Miss Americana And The Heartbreak King.” Of course, no relationship is without pitfalls. And Taylor has a song for that, too: “Afterglow.” Produced by Louis Bell and Franke Dukes, it finds Taylor apologizing for starting a fight. “I blew things out of proportion, now you’re blue. Put you in jail for something you didn’t do,” she laments on the opening lines. Moving into the chorus, she highlights her upper register and pleads to move beyond.
She also imagines the end on the epic “Death Of A Thousand Cuts.” Another choir comes in to do some heavy lifting here. And, although there is an abundance of love songs, it’s worth noting that Lover isn’t only about romantic love. That’s most obvious on the album’s second collaboration, “Soon You’ll Get Better.” The stripped-back cut features the Dixie Chicks, but the theme is one of the most deeply personal. On it, Taylor offers a window into her mother’s battle with cancer. Part prayer, part love letter, it’s one of the most arresting moments on the tracklist.
After being solidly apolitical for so long, Taylor also raises her voice on a variety of hot-button topics. There’s the message of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community on “You Need To Calm Down.” Then she takes on the patriarchy on “The Man.” Co-written and -produced alongside Joel Little, it perfectly highlights Taylor’s sharp wit and powerful pen. And considering its prime placement on streaming platforms, it makes sense as a single at some point during the campaign.
Rainbow bright and effervescent, Lover is a stark departure from the iciness of Reputation. In doing away with the aggressive posturing, Taylor creates a more instantly enjoyable listening experience with a few exceptions. “ME!” and “You Need To Calm Down” are the sonic outliers. Selecting them as the first and second singles feels moderately misguided, especially when songs as good as “Cruel Summer” and “The Man” could have kicked off the era with a chart-dominating smash.
Even still, Taylor achieved exactly what she set out to do with the LP. She celebrated love in its various forms. And the glittery collection is shaping up to be another mega-seller. Seven albums into her career, and she is still pulling down serious numbers. And this latest creative rebirth proves that she’ll be doing so for years to come.
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