There’s a bizarre man-child quality to Taylor Swift songs: like an accomplished 29 year old writing at a Key Stage 3 level. Perhaps she guesses that’s her core audience, and maybe she’s right. But it’s hard to really get into this set of songs when every one could open with ‘Dear Diary’ as the salutation.
Coincidentally, you can actually read Taylor Swift’s diary entries – she released a selection to promote her new album Lover. I haven’t read them, though I’d consider it if I ran out of things to dislike.
These point to the confessional tone of Lover, and hopefully a reprieve from the absurd posturing of the reputation album cycle. Though you’d be fooled for thinking otherwise on opener ‘I Forgot That You Existed’, a Year 8 quality burn where Taylor returns to the well of lording it over a former acquaintance. Ditto ‘The Boy’ & ‘You Need To Calm Down’, which read like excerpts from Taylor’s Burn Book. The latter in particular is risible for its conflation of internet trolls and homophobes, who aren’t mutually exclusive, as well as its smarmy tone.
Thankfully Lover finds it stride with a suite of sweet, moony synthpop. ‘The Archer’ is a surprisingly subtle mood-piece, evoking the sound of Jonny Jewel with its shimmering itali-strings, while the St. Vincent featuring ‘Cruel Summer’ could be a companion to 1989 highlight ‘Style’. The production is varied, detailed and flawless. In fact perhaps Lover‘s greatest strength is how amazingly realised it is – you can thank ubiquitous uber-producer Jack Antanoff for that.
Taylor loyalists are rewarded with a series of throwbacks to her country-tween roots. The title track is a mature ballad with some country twang and a booming bar room beat. ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’ is a moment of genuine vulnerability, a song highlighting her Mother’s struggle with cancer, and featuring some life-affirming backing vocals from the Dixie Chicks. For those missing the Red era, ‘Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince’ packs the same tricksy charm.
Unfortunately these highlights are buried in billowing, pillowy pastel-shaded pop that leaves Lover feeling baggy and overwrought.
‘ME!’ achieves the seemingly impossible feat of being a more boring rendition of Emeli Sandé. ‘ME!’ is quite simply one of the most awful, overblown bits of tooth-rotting pop confection to be tossed out this year, a pointless four-on-the-floor slog, with an excruciating feature from Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie.
‘Daylight’ is a snooze and as for ‘London Boy’: I speak for all of England when I say we never asked for this.
Lover suggests that somewhere in Taylor Swift is a sharp songwriter, musical polymath and mature balladeer. However it’s ultimately crowded out by layer upon layer of gimmickry. Taylor’s ongoing twitch of following sing-song playground vocal patterns is infuriating, and only becomes more irritating as she reaches her late twenties. There are some decent tunes here, but none worth bearing the preachy, pouty tone.