The time has finally come. Today (Aug. 23), Taylor Swift released her seventh studio album, Lover. The follow-up to 2016’s reputation (review here) features collaborations with Brendon Urie and Dixie Chicks. Taylor introduced the Lover campaign with the Brendon Urie collaboration “ME!” To be blunt, the song is some of Taylor’s worst material and it does not sound better in the context of the album. “You Need to Calm Down,” followed as the album’s second single and marked a slight improvement from “ME!” In the face of two bland singles, Lover was shaping up to be a disappointment, but it was the release of “The Archer” (review here) and the title track (review here) that restored faith. Lover is the natural next step from reputation; Taylor emerges from the sinister synths of her sixth album to the candy-coated dream world of love, in all of its forms, on her latest album.
“I Forgot You Existed” opens the album with a plucking bass and finger snaps. Thematically, the song doubles as kiss-off to an old relationship and a sassy goodbye to the darkness of reputation. The bouncy track is welcome palate cleanser, but the real show beings with the following track. “Cruel Summer,” co-written by St. Vincent, is an anthemic mid-tempo song that features big drums that are reminiscent of Phil Collins. Taylor sings about the gamble of falling into a new love; she croons of a “breakable heaven” where “Devils role the dice and angels roll their eyes.” Lyrically, the religious imagery of the song begins a thread that leads to another standout track, the saxophone-laden slow jam, “False God.”
Lover chronicles different types of love, whether it’s romantic, self-love, or familial love. The title track begins another thread that includes “I Think He Knows”; “Paper Rings”; “Cornelia Street” and “London Boy.” These songs, ranging from the cheerleading-esque power pop of “Paper Rings” to the pop-rap of “London Boy,” describe the newness and depth of romantic love. These songs capture the whirlwind of adrenaline and the sneakily serious nature of love. “The Man” bookends a politically-minded common thread with “You Need To Calm Down”; the 80s pop-influenced track is a cheeky takedown of the patriarchy and music business misogyny. “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a Dixie Chicks collaboration, is a gorgeous ballad about Taylor’s mom’s battle with cancer.
Lover also features some of Taylor’s strongest and most expressive vocal performances (she songs especially good “Lover” and “False God”). In addition, the production, mainly helmed by Jack Antonoff and Joel Little, is more inventive that 1989 and more natural than reputation. On her last album, it was too obvious that production was supposed to sound “different” for a Taylor Swift record. Lover‘s production is a more logical evolution from the light pop sounds of 1989.
Despite all of its great parts, Lover has two fatal flaws: it’s entirely too long and Taylor’s songwriting seems to be fighting growth. To address the first point, Lover clocks in at just over an hour with 18 total tracks. Long albums have increasingly become the norm in the streaming era (Drake’s Scorpion, Nicki Minaj’s Queen, Khalid’s Free Spirit, etc.), but that doesn’t mean it works for everybody. In fact, I’d argue that longer albums often do more harm than good; the tracks start to blend together, and the attention span of today’s music listeners is way too short to warrant such lengthy records. Songs like “Death By a Thousand Cuts” and “It’s Nice To Have A Friend” get lost in the mix while the album’s first two singles feel more like nuisances than additions to the album’s overall narrative. Secondly, Taylor needs to commit to growing in her songwriting. “Lover,” “Soon You’ll Get Better,” and “False God” are beautifully written songs that are mature and wise. Unfortunately, far too much time is spent on classic American high school tropes like bleachers and hallways. On Taylor’s past albums, it was understandable that her lyricism would reflect her youth. At this point in her public life and career, Taylor shouldn’t be reverting to such empty imagery when it is clear that she is capable of much more intriguing and challenging songwriting. Also, she uses the “color of blue = sadness” metaphor way too often.
In short, Lover is a solid record. The album could have been much tighter and concise because the truth is, Lover fails to keep the listener’s attention for the duration of the record. It also doesn’t help that you have to dig (more than usual for a Taylor Swift album) to find the gems. The album’s brightest moments are when glimpses of her country roots sneak through the cracks, but her most “pop” moments are still great. Lover isn’t Taylor’s best, but it does have some great new additions to her stellar discography.
Key Tracks: “Lover”; “Cruel Summer”; “False God”; “Soon You’ll Get Better”; “The Man”