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Taylor Swift - Midnights (Album Review)

Tuesday, 25 October 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Beth Garrabrant

After 2020’s ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’ re-established her as an artistic force to be reckoned with, following two patchy efforts that suggested all the external melodrama had taken its toll, Taylor Swift returns to the world of pop music a very different person and artist. It’s tempting to describe ‘Midnights’ as the natural successor to 2014’s mega-selling ‘1989,’ except this reflective and mature collection of electro-pop couldn’t have been made without the essential missteps that have forged a fully-rounded Swift 2.0.

When the concept for her 10th studio album was announced, hopes were high that Swift and producer/co-writer Jack Antonoff were about to deliver a full blown, retro singer-songwriter confessional. Described as representing 13 sleepless nights trawling through fears, terrors, sweet dreams, loves and losses, does ‘Midnights’ serve up whiskey-drenched, smoke-filled, dimly-lit romantic melancholy a la early Tom Waits? Sadly, no.

Yet, any initial disappointment at how this very modern record blends smooth synths, hip hop rhythms and programmed beats with understated organic embellishments, courtesy of strings, saxophone, organs and woodwind, doesn’t linger once you realise her chosen stylistic delivery system couldn’t be more fitting. 

If ‘1989’ was the product of a wild young adult tearing up the Big Apple, ‘Midnights’ is a 30 something slice of contemplation on that dizzying, formative period. Utilising a contemporary sound-of-the-city-during-twilight aesthetic, these meditative late night vignettes have been rooted in the exact geographical space and time an old school troubadour record couldn’t have accomplished. 

A disco-flavoured dance of defiant commitment and fatigued-falsetto exasperation, Lavender Haze is deliciously sensual. Maroon, meanwhile, recalls crushing missed opportunities through cascading melodies and resplendent harmonies. The gorgeously ethereal Snow On the Beach, co-written by and featuring Lana Del Rey, effortlessly evokes the magical moment two people simultaneously fall in love.

Elsewhere, You’re On Your Own, Kid flips isolation and abandonment into storming self-empowerment with invigorating moxie, Bejewelled is pure pop perfection and Vigilante Shit’s jazz-vibed, electro-noir underscores a wink-wink revenge tale that sounds like something off ‘Reputation.’ Only, you know, good. 

After all the personal and professional trauma that preceded them, Swift’s previous two records revealed she’d taken on board crucial lessons and evolved beyond using songs as juvenile score-settling vehicles, towards becoming a refreshingly fallible person able to acknowledge she isn’t always the innocent party. 

That’s even more evident on the pathos-inducing Anti-Hero and Mastermind, where she discloses “no one wanted to play with me as a little kid, so I’ve been scheming like a criminal ever since, to make them love me and make it seem effortless, this is the first time I’ve felt the need to confess.” Wow.

Not everything lands as effectively as those killer lines. Swift’s delivery is full of poised rhythmic grace, the use of heavily treated vocals on some tracks is jarring. The 3AM version of this release, which features an additional seven numbers, also makes a strong case for replacing weaker cuts such as Karma, Labyrinth and Midnight Rain with excellent alternatives in the form of High Infidelity, Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve and The Great War.

It could be argued that Swift has been very clever here, essentially transposing the winning attributes of those critically acclaimed 2020 releases into a more pop-friendly package, in order to re-enter that prized market, without alienating fans of either approach. But it doesn’t matter. What’s important is the calibre and authenticity of execution, and most of this album shows that a fully focussed and disarmingly sincere Taylor Swift remains a generational songwriting attraction, regardless of genre or intent.

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