The Taylor Swift Album Review No One Asked For
If you're looking for a real review of Taylor Swift's latest album, Lover, might I suggest a few articles penned by journalists who are able to be objective:
Paste (This one's even a bad review for those who want one!)
Thought I would give you those links right up top, on the off chance you actually thought this was going to be a real review. No, this is just more of a space for me to gush about how I think this is one of Taylor's best albums yet. If you're not into blind adoration, or you're a card carrying member of the Blind Hatred of Taylor Swift Club, tune in next time when I write about something you'll maybe be more into. Although unsure when that "next time" will be, because it's already been about a week since this album's been out, and it's still all I want to talk about.
Overall, this album is lyrically gorgeous. Lush imagery grows like vines and wildflowers in the verses, shocking intimate details are revealed in the choruses. Taylor has always been a writer first and foremost, and Lover really showcases her talent for figurative language. As a dork who went to writing camp in high school, I especially appreciate her lyrics and have always worn them proudly as some of my favorites of all time. But let's not waste time talking about this album on a macro-level, when really all I want to do is dig into each song individually and burrow my head in their soft spots.
1) "I Forgot That You Existed"
I made the intentional decision to not listen to this album when it was released on streaming platforms at midnight on the 23rd. Call it crotchety or curmudgeonly, but I miss the days of driving to Target after school and getting my hands on the physical CD, excitedly tearing off the plastic and hugging the jewel case close to my chest. So that's what I did. Granted, I'm 24 now and don't have to wait for the dismissal bell to ring before I can go snatch my copy, so I was at Target a few minutes after 8 a.m., when they first opened for the day. Once I picked out which deluxe version I wanted (because there are four, if you didn't know), I was practically skipping to my parked car in anticipation. And, let me tell you, while "I Forgot That You Existed" isn't one of my favorites on the album, it's exactly the type of song I wanted to hear when the CD started playing through my speakers.
Jaunty, pleasing piano chords and finger snaps serve as the melodic backbone of this intro track, a decidedly brighter aesthetic than her previous reputation. The lyrics, while simple, perfectly describe the freeing feeling of letting someone out of your system ("It isn't love, it isn't hate, it's just indifference"). The overall tone of this song fits with some of Taylor's most recent songs and "I don't care" attitude, securing those past feelings with a new, Lover-approved, pastel pink bow. Almost as if to say "Okay, that's out of my system, now onto the good stuff: The love, the fairytales, and all those other Swiftian motifs I do best."
2) "Cruel Summer"
This. Is. My. Favorite. On the whole album, but also probably one of my top picks of her entire discography. I can't say that with certainty because I'm clearly still so enamored with this new album, but once the dust settles I have a feeling this one will still be a standout. And that's simply because it has all the ingredients of some of my other favorites: Devastatingly good lyrics, a notable bridge, and production by Jack Antonoff. I've maybe gone into this before, but Jack has one of my favorite ears in contemporary music, and I would trust him with my playlists, and perhaps my life.
"Cruel Summer" appears to be a common favorite, and I would imagine it's for the reasons above. Taylor has a special skill for writing songs that are intimate and specific, with pop power sounds that invite everyone in. When it comes to songs like these, I shockingly find myself at a loss for words. I don't know how to describe what it is I love so much about this song, so maybe I'll just let Taylor do it for me. Through my initial listen-throughs of this album, I wrote down the lyrics that jumped out at me in a notebook. Most of what's written comes from this song, in messy handwriting that suggests I was too excited to get to the next word, throwing legibility out the window. Most of these lyrics offer internal rhyme schemes and phraseology that are sonically pleasing to sing in the car, but don't rely on tired radio tropes.
"Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes/What doesn't kill me makes me want you more"
"We say we'll just screw it up/In these trying times we're not trying/So cut the headlights, summer's a knife/I'm always waiting for you just to cut to the bone"
"I'm drunk in the back of the car/And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar/Said I'm fine, but it wasn't true/I don't want to keep secrets just to keep you/And I snuck in through the garden gate/Every night that summer just to seal my fate/And I screamed for whatever it's worth/I love you, ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?"
With a song title famously attributed to both Bananarama and Ace of Base, Taylor bellies up to the bar with the daunting task of setting this track apart. She succeeds, leaving listeners with the melancholy feeling of Labor Day after a summer that threatened to go on forever.
Taylor hasn't actually had a title track since 2012's Red album, with this one being entirely different than those of album's past. The easy, acoustic strumming that backs this song left me in tears the first time I heard it. Who's surprised? (No one.)
This song is self-aware in a way I've never heard from Taylor before. While her songs have always been wise beyond their years, this one makes it clear that she's done a ton of growing up since she penned "Red" or "Speak Now" in her early twenties and late teens. This song–this album–was written by a woman who is both nearing thirty and has come to the realization that true love doesn't have to be dramatic. Your person shouldn't leave you sobbing on the kitchen floor, but rather should help you string Christmas lights on the mantel.
The most poignant, telling detail of this song rests in the line "Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand/With every guitar string scar on my hand/I take this magnetic force of a man to my lover." This lyrics works double-time to describe both the physical imperfection of bodily scars and the emotional labor of penning heartbreak songs for so many years. I get a heavy feeling in my chest thinking about how this woman singing about ultimate commitment was once the girl writing about the emotional abuse she endured in years past.
4) "The Man"
We didn't necessarily need Taylor Swift, with her hundreds of millions of dollars, to tell us about gender inequality, but I'm glad that she did. Because even in a position of privilege, it is true that women are treated differently. They're calculating and mean to match a man's strategic and diplomatic.
I'm not necessarily losing my mind over this song as I am with some of the other tracks, but I do love a good girl power anthem. It's also laden with options for good Instagram captions, my personal favorite being "I'd be a fearless leader, I'd be an alpha type/When everyone believes ya, what's that like?"
5) "The Archer"
Taylor famously reserves track five on her albums for her most vulnerable and sad songs, and this one is no exception. But instead of being a forlorn love song, "The Archer" is a self-reflective ballad about taking a good look at yourself in the mirror and realizing maybe you don't need to be so hard on yourself.
The majority of the song is backed by only an extended synth line and bass drum, letting Taylor's voice take center stage. This lets lyrics like "I wake in the night, I pace like a ghost/The room is on fire, invisible smoke/And all of my heroes die all alone/Help me hold on to you" really hit you in the gut. Nestled between "The Man" and "I Think He Knows," this song fits the bill for a classic Taylor Swift track five song, and is a bit of musical brevity between more highly-produced offerings.
6) "I Think He Knows"
Again with the finger snapping! Taylor, you know how to do a catchy song. In hindsight, it's almost laughable that you wasted time as a country artist for so long, because pop was clearly always destined to be your wheelhouse.
"I Think He Knows" plays with cadence in a way that mirrors the initial rush of attraction, that eventually settles into a rhythm that is self-assured. There's a noted difference in the way she delivers the punchy pre-chorus ("He got that boyish look that I like in a man/I am an architect I'm drawing up the plans") and the romantic bridge ("Lyrical smile, indigo eyes, hand on my thigh, we could follow the sparks; I'll drive.")
There's something about this song that's slightly tongue-in-cheek and definitely sexually charged. But when writing an ode to one's Lover as a whole, it's probably worth noting that not only are they your intellectual equal, but you think they're hot, too. This song is doing the heavy lifting on part of the latter.
7) "Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince"
When the tracklist was released one week ahead of its impact date, "Miss Americana" was one I was immediately intrigued by. I had no clue what to expect from this one, but I know I certainly wasn't anticipating political allegory to take shape in the middle of a Taylor Swift album.
While "You Need To Calm Down" is considered the most politically charged song on the album (and we'll get to that), this one snuck up on all of us and hit us over the head with the disenchanted American Dream. It's been noted as a generation-defining protest song that calls out the lunacy of clinging to Americana imagery as a way to tuck ourselves in at night and claim that this country is doing juuust fine.
Using middle America high school as the staging ground for this metaphor, Taylor calls out the shiny fallacy of prom dresses and scoreboards, smartly employing peppy cheerleader sound effects ("O-KAY!") to drive her point home. This certain disdain for routine reminds me of the Kacey Musgraves's breakout hit, "Merry Go 'Round," with a similar narrator who is floating above her hometown and wondering what's gone wrong.
Taylor famously remained silent during the 2016 election, and since has been quoted to say she has regrets. She would have been a vocal advocate for Hillary Clinton, and vows to do everything she can in 2020. With a song like this, I believe her. It's slowly crept up as a favorite of mine, though it does alarmingly resemble reputation's dark track "So It Goes." I think what works for me personally is the second verse ("American stories burning before me/I'm feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed/Boys will boys, then where are the wise men?/Darling I'm scared"), and the clever use of "GO! FIGHT! WIN!" in the bridge.
8) "Paper Rings"
Quite a shift from the dark previous track, "Paper Rings" has the grandiose nature of musical theater and a bright bass line that unfortunately distracts me from the intimate details she's written. You almost miss the adorable detail "Now I've read all of the books beside your bed" when it's drowned out by tambourine.
Though I've memorized all the words to this song and would gladly listen to it before many others, it's far from my favorite. The capital-P Peppy Taylor Swift songs seldom are. This song reminds me of 2012's "Stay Stay Stay," a track I would never go out of my way to listen to. That said, the saving grace of this song is trademark songwriting and production from Antonoff. He once said in a podcast that his secret to a good song is verses that are detailed and specific, paired with a chorus that is universal and relatable. This is a technique I like in a lot of songs, Taylor's specifically, and I recognize it doing the work here.
9) "Cornelia Street"
We're already halfway through this album review, and I've failed to mention that this entire thing is about Taylor's boyfriend Joe Alwyn. You knew that though, right? Unless you're my mom, who asks me "Now who's this song about?" every time I manage to listen to Taylor with her in the car.
There's a line in her song "Gorgeous" (also about Alwyn) that goes "You make me so happy it turns back to sad," and that sentiment is basically what "Cornelia Street" is about. It's like she took that bridge, put it under a microscope, and slowed down the tempo.
I'm having a hard time describing this song as anything other than "dreamy." It's a tale of longing that makes me feel like I'm in a movie trailer when I'm listening to it. I hope you know what I mean by that, because I truly don't think I can articulate it in any other way. What aids in this feeling, I think, is the classic trope of New York City playing its own distinct character in the love story. This is a narrative thread that runs through the entire album, with its pinnacle right here at the album's midpoint.
This song also wins songwriting points from me for specific narrative language that makes me very pleasantly surprised that Taylor and Joe have been able to steal away and have a normal, private relationship much of the time. It's rare that one of the most famous women on the planet should be able to write in earnest "Windows flung wide open, autumn air, jacket 'round my shoulders is yours/We bless the rains on Cornelia Street, memorize the creaks in the floor."
10) "Death By A Thousand Cuts"
We've arrived at another one of my ultimate favorites on the album. While I think "Cruel Summer" takes the top prize, this one is my silver medal winner. "Death By A Thousand Cuts" was written in response to the Netflix original film Someone Great, starring both Gina Rodriguez and my tears in prominent roles.
Like the movie that inspired it, DBATC tells the story of a love that had to end, even though the feelings linger. Though I've never experienced it myself, I can only imagine how awful that is. I'm just guessing here, but I would think "death by a thousand cuts" isn't even that melodramatic of a hook.
From a figurative language perspective, the thing that really grabbed me about the lyrics of this song is the line "I dress to kill my time," even though it's delivered quickly and is probably skipped over by casual fans. I just love the wordplay here! I've never really seen anyone do this, where they tie together two idioms (in this case "dress to kill" and "kill my time") to create an entirely new meaning. I'm exposing myself for the dork I really am, but I mean! That's so cool! How does Taylor's brain think of this stuff?! Anyway, this song is masterful from start to finish.
11) "London Boy"
More critical reviews of this album have pointed at this song as a sore spot, and a "tourist trap" of a tune. And granted, it is going to be featured prominently in the captions of every white girl traveling to England next summer, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you have to take that picture in the red phone booth and sing along to the kitschy lyric "dahling, I fancy you!"
Like "Cornelia Street," this song is surprising to me in the way that it depicts Taylor and Joe's life as...almost normal? I'm very pleasantly thrown that she's able to either experience watching rugby in the pub with his friends, or at least write about it convincingly enough.
12) "Soon You'll Get Better"
While writing this, I've been playing each song to remind myself what I like and dislike about each. With "Soon You'll Get Better," though, I'm not going to do that, so I don't start crying in this very crowded Starbucks.
One of the only songs on the album not about Joe, it's about Taylor's mom Andrea, and her battle with cancer. Its lyrics are universal enough that you can relate it to anyone in your life who has ever been seriously sick, and that's what gets me good! I'm tearing up just thinking about my grandpa's brain surgery and my entire family's blind optimism! Everything's fine! (Seriously, on that note: Everything is fine, in terms of that situation.)
The one criticism I have of this song is that I wish the Dixie Chicks were featured more prominently, but the lyric "I'll paint the kitchen neon, I'll brighten up the sky/I know I'll never get it, there's not a day that I won't try" makes up for it.
13) "False God"
The back half of this album snuck up on me. I didn't initially love these tracks, but a few days in they started to work their Swiftian magic on me, "False God" in particular.
Lover as a whole combines the dark tone of reputation with the pop-synth sounds of 1989 and the lyrical clarity of Speak Now, and this song is perhaps the most prominent melting pot of these elements. Plus a crooning saxophone in the background just for fun!
Since abandoning country and its voting block, Taylor has given up her need to appeal to a PG-rated audience. Can you believe in 2019 we're getting a borderline atheist anthem that alludes to oral sex ("Religion's in your lips...the altar is my hips")? What a time to be alive.
14) "You Need To Calm Down"
YNTCD is...trying its best. I appreciate the effort. I especially appreciate that it was co-promoted with the Equality Act. I appreciate that her heart is in the right place. But I skip this song almost every time it comes around. I only ever really find myself singing this song when my kitten is being too hyper, when I'll scoop him up off the floor and hold him up to my face and sing "You need to calm down, you're being too loud" in a singsong voice while he wiggles around under my fingers.
Like "False God," it took me a few days to appreciate this song for all that it is. And what it is is an answer to the tired argument "Has Taylor Swift ever thought to herself 'Hey maybe I'm the problem?'"
It is a real mark of maturity when you can acknowledge when you've wronged a loved one and apologize in earnest. None of that "I'm sorry if I hurt you" nonsense. In her 29th trip around the sun, Taylor has really mastered this and put it in song, with prominent drums juxtaposing her airy, ethereal vocals.
I don't militantly hate this song as much as everyone else seems to. But I don't absolutely love it. I do like it a lot more than "You Need To Calm Down," and appreciate that she chose to retract the cringy "Hey kids! Spelling is FUN!"
Brendan Urie is a great co-pilot, with a unique voice and perspective I've enjoyed hearing more of in the past few years. It'd be cool if he and Taylor wanted to collaborate again in the future on a song with a bit more substance. But, I can't stress this enough, I don't hate this song. In fact, I listened to it on repeat when it first came out. But now that I have an entire album to cycle through, I skip it a fair amount.
17) "It's Nice To Have A Friend"
Have you ever been to a museum and seen a painting that you don't totally love, but you can look at and say "I acknowledge that this is very good, but it's just not for me"? That's how I feel about INTHAF.
It's notably different than any other Taylor Swift song I've ever heard. In fact, I tried pairing each song on this album with another from her past discography that sounded most similar, and I totally came up short when I got to this one.
What instrument is in the background of this song? It's a plucked string instrument of some sort I think, if not a computer-generated noise. I can't figure this song out, which is probably why it's not one of my favorites. It's haunting and bizarre and somehow also sweet and poignant? And includes a trumpet that harkens back to summer camp mornings. What's going on here?
If "I Forgot That You Existed" was the perfect way to open this album, "Daylight" is the perfect way to close it. It's sensitive, sweeping, and charts immense growth. I've never thought of Taylor Swift as "hard," but it's clear that over time she has been hardened by her failed attempts at love. And seeing her round the corner has been an absolute delight.
In the lyric booklet for her album Red (2012), she writes: "My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love. The ones that went from zero to a hundred miles per hour and hit a wall and exploded. And it was awful. And ridiculous. And desperate. And thrilling. And when the dust settled, it was something I'd never take back...I see all of these moments in bright, burning red...real love shines golden like starlight...Maybe I’ll write a whole album about that kind of love if I ever find it."
To release an album just seven years later that closes with the lyric "I once believed love would be burning red, but it's golden like daylight" hits me where it hurts. It's reasons like these that I haven't figuratively let go of Taylor's hand since I was eleven years old.
And that, friends, is my very clearly subjective review of Lover. A love letter to the album that is a love letter to love itself. Lots of love going on here. But with me, and with Taylor, did you expect anything less?