The Critics Corner | Albums

Lover New album recaps last decade of storied career, showcases an evolutionary bent throughout, a few surprises 
Kelsea Ballerini
Alan HopAlbum name: Lover
Release Date: August 23, 2019
Rating: -- 4.5 out of 5
Review written by: Alan Ho
For the better part of the decade, the post country Taylor Swift has put out album after album, baring her musical soul for her fervent fandom and the entire music world to see, feel and hear.  Swift also altered the pop landscape with her brand of metaphorical songwriting, inspiring a new generation of songwriters that cite her as a major influence.  It is what this site’s other co-founder used to say, “simple, yet elegant.” 
Taylor’s new album Lover represents an evolutionary crossroads to the second stage of her career as she approaches age 30, like she placed all facets of musical philosophy and personalities in one room and at the end generated an 18 track album.  There’s the vengeful yet hopeful Taylor at the top, the new and current Taylor, the Fearless Taylor, the Americana, banjo-strumming Taylor.  And in case you think she forgot her roots before her genre switch this decade, there’s country Taylor and also the vulnerable teenage Taylor a la Tim McGraw.  Probably forgot a few Taylors in between, sorry!  
Vengeful and hopeful Taylor kicks things off, kind of like an ending continuation of Reputation with the opening “I Forgot You Existed.”  Word on the street is that it’s about Calvin Harris, but we’ll let you, the listener (or Swiftie) decide who she’s talking about.  But despite the biting lyrics, there seems to be an evolutionary aspect as the music behind it is not very biting, compared to Reputation, it is actually pretty playful.  But I digress here… 
“Cruel Summer” represents yet another evolution into Taylor’s songwriting and encapsulates her current state.  In the past, songs like these felt like May to September flings, passing fancies.  But “Cruel Summer,” in spite of the title is not about those flings or fancies , it is about the notion of everlasting love, the need to hold on to it.  And be human.   
“Lover” is a wonderful amalgamation of Taylor’s entire career as the lyrics harken back to the 16-year-old from “Tim McGraw” and “Teardrops on My Guitar” with the 19-20-year-old from “Love Story” and the whimsical sensibilities she picked up when she transitioned from country to pure pop in “1989.”  This is all wrapped up in the country sounds that launched her into superstardom from the start, in case anyone forgot where she started.  Because she didn’t, perhaps giving off hints that one day she’ll return back? 
“The Man” now becomes even more pointed and relevant given her interviews as of late.  If we have to explain what the lyrics are all about, you clearly have been living in a bubble.  But in case you have, “The Man” would have been even more biting a la “Bad Blood” from a musical perspective, but instead she takes her ability to beef and air out grievances and combines it with a somewhat playful synth-strut beat from former Lorde collaber Joel Little.  In spite of its biting lyrics about double standards and sexism in the music industry, “The Man” is actually a pretty fun song.   
“Archer” might be the most self-reflective song from Taylor as she appears to wax poetic about herself, where she has been, where she thinks she is and more importantly, who she thinks she is.  And as she begins to enter her 30s (she turns 30 on December 13), who can blame her, we’ve all done that at some level whether we’d like to admit it or not before we turned 30? 
“I Think He Knows” is probably one of the few weak points in Lover.  Yes, it’s fun and you pretty much know EXACTLY what she is talking about, but given its placement in the album, it just feels she could have done much better than a cookie-cutter R&B/Pop bounce track.   
“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” resumes the evolutionary track as she uses the song title as a metaphor for how she feels about the state of the world (“American stories burning before me/ I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed”).  As Taylor says herself for Spotify: “This song is about disillusionment with our crazy world of politics and inequality, set in a metaphorical high school.”  Second best track on Lover hands down. 
If you want your fast, hand-clapping, let’s go 80s throwback attitude, then “Paper Rings” fits the bill for you.  The song will have you clapping your hands and feet to its simple yet hynoptizing sound.  
“Cornelia Street” is an ode to Greenwich Village in New York City and her relationship to boyfriend Joe Alwyn, wrapped in a rom-com clocked at 4 minutes and 47 seconds.  It starts with the courtship, move in to that quaint Greenwich Village flat, then in the middle, she begins to drift off, afraid of vulnerability and then back again as she continues to utter the street name in the title.  The Jack Antonoff-produced track showcases a wide range of emotions throughout but his use of the piano in the background keeps the song in check and in reality.  Brilliant. 
“Death By a Thousand Cuts” and “False God” still showcases Swift’s capacity and vulnerability to self-doubt in relationships.  “London Boy” is definitely a nod to Alwyn, although in a weird and somewhat creepy way.  She spends the next 3+ minutes rattling off every London landmark and area name, doing very British things like watching rugby in a pub, day drinking and saying “god, I love the English” in an unsettling manner. 
Then here comes the long awaited collaboration with the Dixie Chicks, “You’ll Get Better.” If you wanted to see if Taylor forgot her country roots, you are wrong a thousand times over.  “Lover” offered a hint, but “You’ll Get Better” drives home the point that she hasn’t forgotten where she came from and if there was a day and time to “go home,” she can do so with the same switch she used going from country to pop.  It is the most heart-wrenching and emotional song (outside of “Archer”) and it hits close to Taylor because it is about her mother Andrea, whose cancer relapsed and is currently in treatment.   
To be honest, the album could have ended right there, but moves on with the aforementioned “False God,” followed the much talked about “You Need To Calm Down.”  Song alone, it is vintage current Taylor, playful yet combative.  But the accompanying music video muddled her message of tolerance and not constantly talking too loud.   “Afterglow” is unfortunately another checked swing and called strike three and as Simon Cowell would say “forgettable.”  Again, she is much better than this.  “ME!” was the first single off the album and given its placement near the bottom, should have been a one-off and it still sounds like one-off.”  Also a bit oddly placed (or even here at all) is “It’s Nice To Have A Friend;” it sounds like a track that maybe should be left off for her eighth studio effort and also the same goes for closer “Daylight.”  Again, Lover should have ended with “You’ll Get Better;” not saying it’s unnecessary filler, but you have to ask, why include these tracks now instead of the next one? 
Lover starts misplaced but really gets going on “Cruel Summer.”  There is something for every level of Swiftie, from the beginning of her career to her transition into pop, into Reputation, the occassionally self-reflective to the current Taylor that seems free and happy to do what she wants, says what she wants without coming off as too much.  After all, that’s what life is right?  Trial and error, see what works, see what doesn’t, temper the what works into a happy medium and acknowledge mistakes along the way.  There are hints at the next chapter of Taylor Swift as she turns 30 in December, but there are also hints that if she were to go back to her Nashville roots, she would do without having lost a beat but take the lessons she has learned (sometimes painfully) while achieving pop superstardom.  Outside of the seemingly fluffed up ending of the album, Lover represents the entire Taylor Swift experience from the start to now and one cannot wait to see what she delivers next to the storied experience? 
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