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Taylor Swift - Lover (Album Review)

Thursday, 29 August 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Taylor Swift’s songs can be quite cloying, which makes sense. This is an artist forged in the furnace of country music, where proletarian tales of naiveté and heartbreak rattle along next to low slung, sorrowful defiance—all in the name of naked, exploitable greenbacks. As such her seventh studio album, ‘Lover’, hits its familiar marks in a now familiarly unfamiliar way. She is America’s most conventional pop star.

We open with I Forgot That You Existed, a tidy throwback to previous beefs with other pop stars, exes and/or high school rivals. It has irresistibly chunky chords and a choppy arrangement, paired with Swift’s slurred lyrical phrases and spoken sass: “It isn’t love, it isn’t hate / it’s just indifference.” Empowering and delightful at the same time.

The title track is also noteworthy. It’s a darling, waltzing ballad with breathy vocals and organic staging slightly overloaded by reverb and over-singing. Swift is an out-and-out pop star and one must appreciate her as such.

That said, there is a tendency in her music to overcook the emotion and signal her feelings too clearly. The best singers in her space are skilled at saying one thing and meaning something else. A lot of ‘Lover’ is a bit on-the-nose.

London Boy is particularly guilty. Nominally an ode to her English boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, it feels more like a patronisingly contrived namecheckathon designed to shore up target markets and secure loose change for O2 shows. Did the Department for International Trade bankroll this song? Either way, we’re back onto those greenbacks. 

Global pop stars are frequently mismanaged. For a case study, chart the respective fortunes of former Genesis bandmates Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. Collins went out for the commercial win with album after album of dreck punctuated with solid gold hits, while Gabriel was more insular and slow and produced an actual diamond in ‘So’. 

At the moment it feels like Swift is biding her time before her artistic practice is forced to develop due to shifting audiences and media. ‘Lover’ is a serviceable pop album released at a time when she could be ahead of the curve, like Madonna always seemed to be in the 1990s.

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