Feedback with Lizi von Teig: Lover by Taylor Swift

 

It’s an interesting choice for Taylor Swift to release a Carly Rae Jepsen album the same year as Carly Rae herself. “I Think He Knows” fits just as well on Dedication (Carly Rae’s album from earlier this year, which I wrote a review of but scrapped due to it not being long enough), as it does on Lover. The saxophone on “False God” also would feel at home on that album. The Grammy’s will have a tough time picking the Carly Rae album of the year.

My catty remarks aside, I’m very positive on Lover. I wrote on May 2 in a review of “ME!” I was not optimistic about Lover going in. That initial single was so disastrous I wasn’t sure if Taylor would release another good album “until the 2030s,” although it gets even worse on the album version with the removal of “hey kids, spelling is fun.” But that article proved to be whatever the opposite of prophetic is because, as with Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars, this album is a hit. “ME!” did not prove to be particularly demonstrative of the album as a whole. Lover feels like the 1989 follow up that we’ve been waiting for. Reputation infamously “killed” old Taylor, but Lover proves that the upbeat, lovestruck, slightly surface Taylor we love can rise from the ashes like a phoenix.

Which isn’t to say this is just another Taylor Swift album. It’s not a return to Speak Now and Fearless, it’s an evolution from 2014’s 1989. Steeped in synths and pad-based rhythm sections, it most blatantly follows up that Pet Shop Boys tribute album on the songs “London Boy” and “Cruel Summer,” but the guitar riff on “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” the acoustic ballad with the Dixie Chicks that is “Soon You’ll Get Better,” and the “Holy Ground”-esque rhythm and beat on “Paper Rings” demonstrate that she’s synthesizing what she did on Speak Now and RED with her new sound.

Rolling Stone has published several articles on Lover, the only one of which I read being by one of my preferred writers from them Rob Scheffield, and I think he exaggerates the album when he describes it by saying “It’s her career-capping masterpiece: She touches every place she’s ever visited along her musical journey, and makes them all sound new.” She doesn’t have any of the grand ballads that made Speak Now a masterpiece (although I think there is a lyric that references “If This Was A Movie” on this album), nor is there any of the country influence that was displayed on the self titled album — not even on the Dixie Chicks collaboration — but there is a certain amount of that lyrically. The album is deeply referencing her previous works in ways that long time fans will recognize but still make sense to the casual listener. She builds on all the themes she’s written about before, but now with the maturity of a nearly 30 year old.

If you want a detailed analysis of each song, there’s no shortage of those, and I’m sure there will be 100 more by the time this is published, but here’s a few thoughts about individual tracks. “Miss Americana” requires some close listening. At first glance, as Teen Vogue writer Claire Dodson observed, can seem like lyrically like it’s a superficial teenage romance, but further analysis finds it’s more of a deconstruction of the tropes than a return to them, particularly with that repeating line “you play stupid games you get stupid prizes.” “The Man” is a less powerful feminist anthem than a lot of the Swifties are making it out to be, but nevertheless it’s a stronger social message than we’ve seen from Taylor before. “False God” is another standout track in terms of Taylor playing with heavier themes — although I doubt she’s speaking literally of The Almighty, it seems more a meditation of the cult of love in the greater context of the album.

I’m writing this in the midst of my third listening, and there’s nothing on this album that will match the power of lyrics like “our song is slamming screen doors, sneaking out late tapping on your window” or the memetic capabilities of “She wears short skirts I wear tee shirts.” There is nothing on this album to compete with the unabashed brilliance of “Long Live” or “New Romantics,” but it’s an album of upper-middle tier Taylor Swift songs and is the comeback from Reputation that Taylor desperately needs in 2019.

Lover is out now everywhere.

 

Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.

 

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