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Taylor Swift - Evermore (Album Review)

Wednesday, 16 December 2020 Written by Huw Baines

Taylor Swift’s music has always walked in lockstep with its backstory: the Nashville star-in-waiting and born romantic breaking big, breaking bad, apparently always breaking up at the end of a telephoto lens. But ‘Evermore’ does away with a chunk of that preamble in much the same way as blockbuster sequels shot in tandem might.

In following so sharply on the heels of her first pandemic record ‘Folklore’, it pitches us back into that world without so much as a recap. The palette—tasteful indie-folk guitars, reverb, coffee shop-safe electronica—is the same, as are the key collaborators: the National’s Aaron Dessner (plus bandmates), Jack Antonoff and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.

With that accumulated knowledge banked, Swift returns to a well of character studies and vignettes that toy with her tabloid image through Easter eggs and lyrical bait and switches.

Frequently the characters here make discoveries and observations that ring through into the real world, adding further shading to melodies that are patient, subtle and often exceptional. 

The album’s grasp on nostalgia and classic American tropes alternates between loving and a grim sort of ironic distance, positing that life choices can reverberate through time and shifting contexts. We’re invited to wonder about what elements of the album’s geography are rooted in Swift’s life, and how our own stories have reflective passages sparked by familiar places.

Swift finds the sadness and warmth in could-have-beens and almost-weres, but also the hurt and spite that lingers in the gaps. “The road not taken looks real good now,” someone laments on ‘Tis the Damn Season. “And it always leads to you and my hometown.” On Champagne Problems there is an ocean of subtext and heartache contained within a minute pause between a line of dialogue and its attribution: “She would've made such a lovely bride, what a shame she's fucked in the head...they said.”

But unlike the more muted ‘Folklore’, Swift repeatedly allows her romantic side to provide a counterpoint. Where that record was more comfortable existing in the National’s world of emotional blues and greys, ‘Evermore’ is grounded in Swift’s universe. It is more outwardly pop in its construction, and songs such as Gold Rush revel in high stakes games of stolen glances and grand plans. And still, reality keeps butting in as a coastal town romance withers under the weight of expectation. “I don't like anticipating my face in a red flush,” the narrator warns.

In ‘Folklore’ and now ‘Evermore’ Swift has rediscovered some old tools (see the country lilt of Cowboy Like Me) and unearthed new ways of pushing herself as a songwriter. Together they make a masterful double feature.

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