Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published August 23rd 2019
You cannot avoid Taylor Swift
No, wait! Come back! Regular readers are probably checking to make sure this is by me, and not a mis-attributed link. But, no, it is by me, it is about a Taylor Swift album, and this means I do like it.
Of course, regular readers will also be aware I have shown some affection for Ms Swift in the past, and I actually enjoyed a lot of the 1989 album. Bad Reputation, maybe four songs grabbed me, but then she released this one.
So we come to Lover, the 2019 release by Taylor Swift.
Now, first, I did not buy this. I was given it by one of the girls I train with. She is a regular reader of my columns, and decided that I should write about one of her favourite artists. I warned her that I only write about things I like, and she assured me I'd like this.
She was right; I lost my bet; I paid her in muffins.
Now, the first thing to say is that this is unashamedly a pop album. But it is fun and while it is not afraid to tackle some big picture items, it is, on the whole, quite a positive album. Her voice is really good, and is allowed to shine through on the majority of the tracks. The music is bog-standard pop music, nothing too great, but where this album shines is in the lyrics and song composition. And, unlike so very many of the modern pop stars, Swift either wrote or co-wrote every single track on this album.
I should also point out I do not keep up with celebrity gossip and stuff like that. If there are any juicy tidbits that I'm missing because of that, does it matter? What I like is the music. I do not care about an artist's politics, sexual identity or past life. I guess it's part of my own personal backlash against so-called 'cancellation culture'. I take it as it is.
Let's get to Lover.
'I Forgot That You Existed'. This is a gentle way to start the album. While it could be easily aimed at specific people, to me it feels like it's about just letting go of the past and the pain that sometimes goes along with that. It's a song about moving on. "It isn't love, it isn't hate, it's just indifference." Not sure I would have opened with it, but if she's saying this to start with in order to get rid of the garbage, fair call.
'Cruel Summer'. No, not a remake of the Bananarama song. This is a little poppier than the first track. It feels like a song about a summer fling gone wrong, but even I can see there is a deeper meaning here – about a time when she had issues with the press or maybe it was the Kardashian/West thing. (I don't read gossip sites, but can you avoid all of this tripe? Really?) Not a bad track for all that.
'Lover"'. I actually find this song quite beautiful. It is a love song, sure, but more about setting up a home together ("We could let our friends crash in the living room/ This is our place, we make the call…") and not everything is perfect, but to them, it is what they want.
'The Man"'. 'The Man' is an interesting track, well-written lyrically, about how would Swift have been perceived if she had done everything she had done, but was male? It rings unfortunately true; if she had been a man, she would not be put down as much as she has been. Different rules for different genders. "They'd say I hustled, put in the work/ They wouldn't shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve…" However, if any track on this album could have done with a heavier music sound, this is it.
'The Archer'. This track is about being insecure in a relationship. The music beneath her multi-layered vocals does not detract from the lyrics, which are the pivot of this song. And the sudden ending is a nice way to go about things. Not over-done, not packed with everything including the kitchen sink, one of my favourite songs on the album.
'I Think He Knows'. Lyrically, this song is a little girl crush song. It is more up-tempo than the last song, but it does have a slightly immature feel about it ("It's like I'm seventeen, nobody understands…") But who hasn't felt like a teenager again at the start of a new relationship? Still, to me, one of the least tracks on the album.
'Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince'. Not real sure what this song is supposed to be about. Is it the story of a high school/college romance? Or is it about the politics of the time ("American glory faded before me…")? Or is it about the people who have put her down over the past decade or so? While that can be an interesting argument, that confusion sort of pulled me out of the song, which isn't bad, but is nothing special.
'Paper Rings'. An above-standard love song. She's so in love with this person that they can get married even if they only have paper rings ("I like shiny things, but I'd marry you with paper rings…"). (I'm reminded of a story told by friends of my ex about how their first engagement ring was the ring-pull from a soft drink can…) Quite an upbeat song, and a really happy one. An album highlight.
'Cornelia Street'. This song celebrates nostalgia, looking at a certain time in Swift's life and just enjoying reliving those memories, but also realising you can't go really go back. That does mean there is a sad undercurrent about the track, however. Another highlight.
'Death By A Thousand Cuts'. This is a song that, lyrically, I could relate to. And when someone in her twenties can write a track that a guy pushing fifty can relate to, you know that cross-generational thing has kicked in. It's about how a relationship break-up can be compared to a slow death. "I look through the windows of this love/ Even though we boarded them up…" Ouch. A song elevated by the lyrics.
'London Boy'. A love song about an Englishman, filled with English allusions, sort of like Ed Sheeran's 'Galway Girl', but this feels more forced. It's not a terrible song, but there was something that just didn't quite gel for me.
'Soon You'll Get Better'. This song features the Dixie Chicks – have they been forgiven for being honest by mainstream America yet? This song is Taylor with the DCs harmonising, a guitar and fiddle, and lyrics that are quite sad. My friend did tell me it's about Swift's mother, who was diagnosed with cancer. Well, if that is the case (and it certainly seems like it could be lyrically), it is a wonderful tribute to a relative in need of support. Another highlight.
'False God'. I think this song is using religious imagery to say her relationship is in a strong place. I found the lyrics a little too 'look at me' clever, and the musical structure did not do anything for me.
'You Need to Calm Down'. A song supporting gay rights. I liked this song from the first time someone sent me a link to the video clip. But I was also sent a link to a 5,000 word essay examining the clip and the song, like it was Chaucer or something. Wow. What a… wow. Let's just leave it at that, shall we? Despite this, the song is catchy as anything, and has a positive message. Maybe it's a little heavy-handed delivering it, but in this day and age, I think subtlety just doesn't cut it anymore. While it does refer to her own issues with "haters", it can so easily be transferred to so many other facets of modern life.
'Afterglow'. This is lyrically an interesting song, a person taking the blame for issues in a relationship. Again, in my recent years, looking back at the distant past, something I find myself doing a lot of. Delivered with a strong emotion, and a driving drum machine beat, it is another track I quite like.
'Me!'. This was apparently the first single released from the album, featuring Brendon Urie (from Panic! At The Disco); I saw it from some live awards show where some talking head on TV whinged it was ripping off Beyoncé, who is herself known for ripping off other artists. To quote another song here: "You need to calm down…" Another positive affirmation in song, done with a decent pop format that makes it surprisingly listenable with those persistent drums, and, damn, if I didn't find myself foot tapping to it.
'It's Nice To Have A Friend'. I have the feeling this is another nostalgic song, about being a kid. Not a teenager, but a pre-teen, when sex was not always somewhere lurking in the background, but when you could have a friend just because you liked them as a person. Again, that positivity. It is delivered as a ballad, with a child-like delivery, highlighting its central theme. Nice track
'Daylight'. And we finish with another love song. She might have made mistakes in the past in her relationships, but this one feels different: "I've been sleeping so long in a twenty-year dark night/ And now I see daylight, I only see daylight…" Sweet closer.
And because my friend went out and got the "Deluxe" edition, there are two bonus tracks, the piano and vocal tracks of 'I Forgot That You Existed' and 'Lover'. The first is an interesting look into the beginning of her songwriting process. It may be that it is only for fans or writing nerds, but I found it interesting to hear where a track like that actually comes from. The second is similar, but because the song is a better one, and it came here almost fully formed, it is like the next stage in that process. For what it's worth, I think it would be simply awesome featuring just her and the piano. It suits the song better.
Look, this is a good pop album. It is not my favourite album of the year; it is not even my favourite album by a female artist this year (I think Laura Imbruglia has that done and dusted). However, it is a good pop album. I do not like a lot of modern pop music, but there is something about a deal of Taylor Swift's work that I really do not mind. And listening to the top 20 or whatever it is, the tracks here are far better than 90% of charting songs out at the moment.
More importantly, some of the things she has to say are actually worth listening to. While they may seem a little twee, messages that can come out and hopefully change people's attitudes for the better, especially her demographic audience, can only be a good thing in the long run. This is not an album for everyone, but for those who don't mind a bit of this sort of modern music, you could certainly do far worse. Far, far worse. Yes, I recommend it, but you must be aware of what you are getting.