“Snakes and stones never broke my bones!” announces Taylor Swift, now 29, on wannabe LGBT pride anthem You Need To Calm Down, the fourteenth track on her latest candy-doused studio album Lover, shedding the grunge-infused black snakeskin that defined her 2017 response to tabloid paranoia, Reputation: her most dynamic and debate-friendly offering yet.
Lover sees Swift embrace the haters with her warmest hug since 1989’s Shake It Off and shift focus to the genuine enthusiasm she holds for her current romantic situation. Ew.
Why do people in love have to write songs? It makes the rest of us feel awful.
But Swift’s admittedly spotty abilities as a lyricist have nary been the downfall of her output, and Lover has enough melodic Oomph to compensate for the sticky adoration of Paper Rings, or the downright hate crime that is London Boy. Several songs are just effectively building on the foundations she laid on Reputation. The juvenile prom-obsessing Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince (what successful 29 year old has this much to say about their prom??) has a chorus almost identical in arrangement to the wintry, sultry So It Goes. Meanwhile, Afterglow sounds an awful lot like Dress, and Cornelia Street is a weird mishmash of Don’t Blame Me and a few other more generic songs.
The strongest tracks are those demonstrating the weightiest Jack Antonoff influence: particularly the pleasurably moody (and possibly Kanye-dissing?) False God, and the lesser but fairly engaging The Archer. There’s some of that budget Antonoff in Cruel Summer and Daylight too. Death By A Thousand Cuts has the vocal of TLC’s No Scrubs and the instrumentation of an Alanis Morissette hit. It’s, uh, not very good.
I Forgot That You Existed is pure cocky ‘Queen Of Pop Irony’ Swift as she boasts that “it’s not love, it’s not hate, it’s just indifference”. I Think He Knows belongs in the same category as lead single ME!: something you could call ‘grating Disney Channel Original Movie soundtrack rejects’.
And then there’s The Man: Swift’s own take on the the Beyonce classic If I Were A Boy. Swift, both a recent victim of criminal groping and an eternal target of online misogynist bile, questions what life would be like if people believed everything she said, and whether she’d be able to run away faster “if she was a man”. It’s the most political thing on the record — Lover is unfortunately lacking in statement considering Swift has actually started getting involved recently (I don’t count You Need To Calm Down as political, it’s sociological if anything) — and it comes a little bit out of nowhere, but I endorse the basic concept, and it’ll be no harm to see 14-year old girls with the lyrics branded on signs and t-shirts come Swift’s next tour. Which, having had one of the most enjoyable nights in recent memory at the Dublin leg of the Reputation tour, I will certainly make an effort to attend.