If there’s a criticism to be made of Taylor Swift, and there certainly is, then it’s usually that her career has felt calculated to a fanatical extent. Each new ‘sound’ Taylor arrives at feels highly choreographed. In 2017 we had “the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now” and all that silliness on reputation and then by 2019 we were back to carefree “spelling is fun” Taylor on the candy-hued and tooth-rotting pop of Lover.
So it comes as a shock that Taylor Swift’s foray into folktronica, of all things, is her most satisfying work since 1989. Indeed as an album rather than a collection of great singles, it surpasses it. With an album cover like those creepypasta Slenderman photos…
…this is the first Taylor Swift album I have actually chosen to listen to, and let play. folklore is pretty, modest, atmospheric and about 2 months early.
Early because this is an Autumn album. This is the sort of thing you listen to swathed in a cable-knit jumper, drinking black coffee on a misty October morning. Although given this loneliest of summers perhaps folklore is right on time.
If folklore has a central message it’s that the best times have come and gone. It’s a sunset album. Almost all the songs contained are reflections on lost youth and lost romance, ideas which Lover had began to dip a toe into on ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’. ‘the 1’ may sound preppy enough all gentle guitars and clap-back beat, but it’s a song of resignation. Ditto ‘the last great american dynasty’.
These songs have the intimacy and sentimentality of an Owl City album, but without all the saccharine excess. The writing is retrained and lived-in, and Taylor Swift finally drops her long-standing habit of slipping into sing-song asides. The sourness that curdled songs like ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ and ‘You Need To Calm Down’ is gone.
Instead, folklore is a genuine and worthy attempt to capture a place and a feeling. This culminates in the brilliant ‘august’, which manages to be pretty and hopeless at the same time and with “but I can see us lost in the memory / August slipped away into a moment in time” she has the best couplet of the album.
It’s a tad overlong, as most albums are in the Spotify age, and this fad of decapitalising song titles (thanks Lana) is getting out of hand, but folklore is a really good album. And that’s from a hater.