In the prologue of her 2012 LP Red, Taylor Swift talked about her seeming unattainable goal of finding a real love that “shines golden like starlight”. The then 22-year-old remarked that “maybe I will write a whole album about that kind of love if I ever find it”, which for someone who was renowned for her hopeless romanticism was quite sad. With its whirlwind of emotions and deliberate lack of sonic cohesion, that album is largely regarded as Swift’s magnum opus, the ultimate testament to her ability to capture the heartbreak that love brings. However, with almost a decade since its release and the arrival of her latest record, Lover, it may seem that Swift has not only topped her crown jewel, but also found the love that she dreamed of.
There is few similarities between Red and Lover. Red’s messy, undecided genre tasting is nowhere to be found on the risk taking, but tightly cohesive Lover, while the heartbreak that gave birth to the former, is a mere flicker of insecurity under the overwhelming joy that encompasses much of the latter’s 18 tracks. However, it is Swift’s sheer sense of emotion that binds the two albums. The tear stains and angry screams that echo behind every melody of Red is only matched in their intensity by the sheer opulence of happiness, desire and unadulterated adoration that laces itself around each word of Lover.
The album didn’t quite seem as strong from the get-go, as Swift exceeded herself in her uncanny ability to pick atrociously misrepresentative singles for her LPs. Lover’s first two releases – the relatively hollow but somewhat enjoyable ‘You Need To Calm Down’ and the absolutely atrocious monstrosity that was the lead single ‘ME!’ – are not only major outliers on the record but actually work slightly better within the context of the track listing. ‘‘You Need To Calm Down’ is given a strong assist by being placed between some of the record’s heavier material and provides a break from the waves of emotion, while ‘ME!’ is given slight purpose as it follows up the Louis Bell and Frank Dukes produced ‘Afterglow’, which chronicles a fight between Swift and her lover for which she is to blame.
Joel Little – who handled production on ‘You Need To Calm Down’ and ‘ME!’ – delivers much stronger work on his other two tracks. ‘The Man’ details how Swift would be treated professionally if she had been with the benefit of being male, name checking Leonardo DiCaprio along the way. The track is unrelenting and unafraid, playing on her infamy in a similar vein to her 2014 hit ‘Blank Space’. Little also produced album highlight ‘Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince’. Living up to its convoluted title, the track insidiously delves into heavy metaphor, using high school to discuss the darkness of the world and the light that love provides. It’s some of Swift’s strongest songwriting in recent memory, as is much of the album.
Swift turns in three self-written tracks for the LP – the most on any of her albums since 2012’s Red. The trio make for an odd, seemingly unintentional trilogy. ‘Lover’ details her undying love filtered through an unrealistic fairytale lens, while ‘Cornelia Street’ follows a moment in which Swift almost lost said love. ‘Daylight’ exists right in the middle of those two tracks, dealing with her emotions with retrospect and an eerie calmness. Swift works with Jack Antonoff on all three, as well as the majority of the album’s other cuts. The duo exceed themselves here – drifting from the choking anxiety of ‘The Archer’, to the electropop dream that is ‘Cruel Summer’, and the punky ‘Paper Rings’. However, true perfection comes in the form of the gut-wrenching heartbreak present of the Dixie Chicks-featuring ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, a beautifully quiet ode to Swift’s mother’s fight with cancer. The track is wonderfully simple, with Swift’s vocal delivery doing much of the heavy lifting.
Swift’s vocal performance is quite strong across the board, as she delves into her gut for the album’s darker moments like ‘Miss Americana’, before soaring with her falsetto into the pink and blue clouds on the horn tinged slow jam ‘False God’. She sounds quite sure of herself, which is an exciting sign given her recent announcement of plans to re-record her previous releases.
It is hard to top an album that has overshadowed the rest of your work for seven years. It is even more difficult to do so with an album that stands in complete contrast with everything that previous masterpiece signified. It is impossible to say whether Lover is better than Red, or even that either album truly is her greatest work of art. However, it is easy to say that Lover is a truly wonderful full circle moment and is made all the most satisfying to see that not only did Swift find a love that “shines golden like starlight”, but she did it without losing herself.