What I appreciate the most about Taylor Swift is the “re-watch value” of her music. Every new single is almost guaranteed to annoy me on first listen (“ME!”), but in the context of the album itself, become something great. Lover, the seventh album from Swift, is no exception. There is so much to unpack throughout the 18 tracks that one listen can’t possibly be enough to take it all in. What stands out the most about Lover is that it lives and dies by making the listener feel jubilant until the very end.
Lover seemingly picks up where 2014’s 1989 left off—sizzling synth, lyrics dripping in romance, and a bright feeling leveled throughout each song. There isn’t much of a hint of Reputation’s aggressiveness to be found on the surface, save for the opening track (“I Forgot That You Existed”). Looking deeper into the songs though, there is a refinement to her writing that takes shape from Reputation. Lover is, for perhaps the first time, a true mix of all of Swift’s past releases. The poppy synth blends with deep R&B beats, while Swift’s classic twang peeks through her vocals from time to time. Occasionally, songs like “Lover”, which relies on piano and guitar, crank up the nostalgia of her storied career.
Impressive in its own right is Swift’s use of minimalism in her music. She allows the quiet to be an instrument itself behind her smooth vocals (“Cornelia Street”) along with haunted, hushed instrumentation. At other times, a very simple wall of melody lays the bed as a surface for her vocals to jump on (“The Archer”). Meanwhile, “Cruel Summer”, a layered pop jam that chronicles the hesitancy to be vulnerable in a relationship, bounces on its own as a hit single waiting to happen.
Intentional or not, discovering songs that feel like follow ups to stories / songs from past albums is an unexpected joy. The hypnotically cheerful “Paper Rings” follows a simple dance melody and bouncing bass that sounds like a sister song to Red’s “Stay Stay Stay”, a song steeped in cheesy romance so strong it forces a smile. Lead single “ME!” (Featuring the masterful Brendon Urie) is already noted for its marching band-inspired beats and cheer section, reminiscent of the self-empowering “Shake It Off”.
If there is a theme to Lover, it’s one of hope. The album tells many stories, each looking forward to a happy future. “Cruel Summer” hints at the blossoming love between two people (“I scream, ‘For whatever it’s worth / I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?’ / He looks up, grinning like a devil”).
“Miss American & The Heartbreak Prince” is the one track that sounds like a downer, but there are specks of light coming through until the end. The song feels in equal parts a story about young romance (“They whisper in the hallway, ‘she’s a bad bad girl’) and a commentary on politics (“American stories burning before me / I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed / Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?”). Even here, peppy shouts of “Go! Fight! Win!” punch through the fog of moody synth.
Lover is not a perfect album. It’s hard not to continuously roll your eyes during “London Boy”, and at 18 songs, the album feels just a few tracks too long. Ironically, you could make a pretty aggressive drinking game with the staggering amount of references to alcohol and being drunk that crop up in almost every song. Lover is almost magical in the warmth its synth pop presents. However, songs like “Soon You’ll Get Better”, featuring the Dixie Chicks, an acoustic ballad interwoven with banjo and violin, make it hard not to miss Swift’s past, even if her future is brighter than ever.
by Kyle Schultz