Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published July 31st 2020
2020 Taylor shows her talent
Yes, I am reviewing another Taylor Swift album. I enjoyed Lover somewhat and didn't mind 1989 or Red. Those last two are not really my style of music, but as far as pop goes, they are better than a lot of what I have heard over the years of the 21st century. But Lover I found quite re-listenable.
But, suddenly, with less than a day's notice, Taylor Swift released a new album only about a year after Lover. No pre-warning (very unlike her), no barrage of singles first, just, quite suddenly, an album. I waited to hear a track or two and was pleasantly surprised. So I thought why not, and went out and grabbed it.
Thus I now have folklore by Taylor Swift (2020).
This is different to the last few Swift albums. And that is a good thing. I am not sure what the sound of this one is – it is certainly not pop-princess stylings. There is almost an indy pop vibe to it. There is a lot of piano, some vocal effects, but it is not over-produced to a perfect sheen of modern pop shininess. Lockdown music has been good for a lot of artists, and I think Taylor Swift is one of them.
This album is incredibly strong. I am not sure how autobiographical it is, as she is apparently wont to put herself into her songs, but I don't think it matters – what matters is the art produced, not the hidden meanings behind it. What we are presented with is all that the public should care about. I don't follow the gossip, so I wouldn't know what the songs were about anyway. I am judging by what I am hearing. And, I will say, that unlike so many pop stars, she either wrote or co-wrote every track here. This is some talent.
Now, before I start, the album's title and all the tracks are written and stylised with lower case letters as titles. It is not a mistake – it is deliberate.
'the 1' We start with a piano. A gentle song about no longer being "the one", this is a quiet, relaxed way to start the album. It harkens back to some of the singer-songwriters of the 70s (think Joni Mitchell, Carole King). Some good lyrics as well (and, yes, I am a sucker for lyrics).
'cardigan' Comparing herself to a comfortable, old cardigan. Simple. I like the percussion through this track, with Swift's voice in the verses so subdued, and then rising in the chorus. Another good track with more lyrics that are well-written.
'the last great american dynasty' First of the stand-out tracks. The tempo lifts a little here and the story it tells about a family and their home/house is quite a good one, with the "maddest woman" not caring about anything except her life.
'exile'. With Bon Iver sharing vocal duties, this is my favourite track on the album. The piano and their voices complementing one another just makes this song so beautiful. Again, the lyrics of repeating mistakes from the past are very good. And the limited instrumentation just makes it feel that much better. Like I said, I've heard all her albums since Red, and I think this might be the best track Swift has done. If I do a best songs of the year list, this will definitely be there in the top 10.
'my tears ricochet' This has a different feel and sound to it, beatless until the end and ethereal. There is something Haim-like about the ending. Again, not a bad song at all. This minimalist approach really suits her voice.
'mirrorball' The same musical landscape continues on this track. But after everything it follows, this is a lesser track on the album.
'seven' Back to the piano-led songs. What makes this song for me is the way Swift sings it – we hear the inhalations of breath, adding a sense of reality to it. Again, stripping the song of that pop sheen is a huge advantage here.
'august' The echo effect on the voice and the comparatively up-tempo beat give this song a pleasant and dreamy feel about it. The lyrics, again, also help elevate this above usual pop pap.
'this is me trying' I'm not sure why, but I like this song, and for me it is another highlight. It doesn't break any new ground, and the lyrics are okay, but the whole effect of the song is just really good. The violin sounds, maybe? The chorus? Not sure – I like it. "I was so ahead of the curve the curve became a sphere." That is nice.
'illicit affairs' We start with acoustic guitar this time. This is very 1970s in styling and the story the song tells is good. Did I mention how good this album is? Swift's rawness in her voice helps as well. This track is another highlight.
'invisible string' We stick with the guitar (or is it a mandolin?) and this is my (equal) second-favourite track on the album. This is a love song with some great lines and really nice singing. It has an Ed Sheeran feel about the lyrics. I mean that as a compliment, by the way.
'mad woman' Back to the piano. an okay song, but not one of my favourites here. The lyrics are quite good, but it just feels like it is there. That's all.
'epiphany' I love this song! It has an Imogen Heap vibe about it, and the stories it tells (yes, multiple) are so good. My other (equal) second favourite track. This is beautiful. And even though run through a computer, there is still a realness about her voice that is great – those breaths we hear, the hiccups, wonderful.
'betty' Guitar again, with even a dose of harmonica. I like the music, and the lyrics about offering an apology to some-one you wronged in the past is something even this old man can relate to. The exact details, not so much; the sentiment, for sure.
'peace' This song left me a little flat, I'm afraid. The instrumentation was okay, and the lyrics were okay, but it did not do anything for me, not really.
'hoax' and we finish with another piano ballad. A straight-forward love song, and we are back to the singer-songwriter stylings and it is a pleasant way to end the album.
Sixteen tracks, and the strike rate was remarkably high. I waited until I had listened to the album a few times before I wrote this, making sure my first impressions were not clouded by another album I bought (a terrible one, by the way, and yet selling well). They were not. Especially the track 'exile', which is as good a pop song as I have heard this year.
Is this an album just for Taylor Swift fans? Truth be told, I think her fans might not "get" it, especially the younger ones. But it does give a feel of a sense of maturity about Swift's work. She was always on the cusp of being one of the current generation's premier songwriters; this album has been a huge step towards her achieving that goal.