American pop-megastar Taylor Swift has released her best album to date with Lover.
The album is infused with content from her back-catalogue, notably: the stripped-down acoustic vocals of 2012’s Red, the 80s-inspired bassline of 2014’s 1989, and the fearless honesty of 2017’s reputation.
Swift, who will turn 30 in December, has grown both musically and spiritually since releasing reputation two years ago.
For 11 of the album’s 18 tracks, Swift teamed up with long-time collaborator, producer and writer Jack Antonoff, who helped her achieve a significantly more mature sound.
Surprisingly, Swift’s other long-term collaborator Max Martin, who co-produced tracks from her previous three albums, is nowhere to be found on Lover’s tracklist.
Swift is stripped of the vocoder vocal effect that she relied on so heavily in the reputation era, her voice throughout Lover is instead crisp and clean, cutting through the airy and ambient synth harmonies.
A standout track from Swift and Antonoff is 'False God', a seductive synth-pop ballad infused with horns, where Swift illustrates that her notoriously private relationship with British actor boyfriend Joe Alwyn is far from perfect.
In ‘False God’, Swift sings, “I know heaven’s a thing. I go there when you touch me, honey. Hell is when I fight with you”.
Swift is brutally honest, and unveils her own self-destructive tendencies in her relationships.
“And you can't talk to me when I'm like this,” Swift sings. “Daring you to leave me just so I can try and scare you.”
Swift inflects her rich lower vocal register for a mellow sound, evoking the rambling pace of long-time inspiration Bob Dylan while conjuring an erotic serenade.
“They all warned us about times like this. They say the road gets hard and you get lost when you’re led by blind faith,” she sings.
Swift has fallen hopelessly in love, and she wants us all to know about it.
Taylor has long referred to this much-anticipated project as a “love letter to love”, and Lover is both reflective and forward-looking.
Swift gleefully shouts her love for Alwyn (and British boys) from the rooftops in the whimsical ‘London Boy’, where she details their adventures running around town.
Swift also reels from her tarnished reputation, after her falling out with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in 2016, by offering a somber and critical perspective on tracks ‘Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince’ and ‘Cruel Summer’.
Swift sings in ‘Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince' - “My team is losing, I’m battered and bruising. I see the high-fives between the bad guys… You are the only one who seems to care”.
On reflection, reputation was a mournful period for Swift, where she contemplated how to pick up the pieces of her fragmented character.
In comparison, Lover is forward-looking and vivid with colour, hope and self-reassurance.
Swift has emerged from her brief period of darkness stronger than ever, and this is clear in the album’s premiere track ‘I Forgot That You Existed’.
“How many days did I spend thinking ‘bout how you did me wrong?” Swift sings.
“I forgot that you existed. I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t.”
Despite the album’s undoubtable strengths, it isn’t without its weak spots.
The album’s preceding singles gave Lover a bad first impression, namely ‘ME!’, Swift’s track in collaboration with Panic At The Disco!’s Brendon Urie.
The track felt like a childish pandering to her young fans.
The song’s music video (riddled with unicorns, glitter and over-theatrics) is a far-cry from the mature sound that Swift has conjured up throughout the remainder of Lover.
Swift seemingly came to this realisation in the lead up to the album’s release, as she erased the line ‘Hey kids, spelling is fun!’ that appeared on the single between the second verse and the bridge.
Similarly, ‘You Need To Calm Down’, although an infectious earworm, lacked Swift’s trademark depth and sobering self-reflection.
Another noteworthy collaboration found on Lover is the melancholy melody of ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’, featuring the Dixie Chicks.
Swift is as vulnerable as she has ever been in song, as she broken-heartedly details her mother Andrea’s battle with breast cancer, an ultra-personal side of Swift we are rarely given a window onto.
Upbeat female-empowerment anthem ‘The Man’ would be a logical next single.
Swift’s vocals are interwoven with synth harmonies and a heavy bassline, reminiscent of infectious late-70s and early-80s smash-hits like Lipps Inc.’s ‘Funky Town’.
The track is co-written and co-produced with Joel Little, who co-wrote the Grammy-winning track ‘Royals’ with singer Lorde, and it oozes Swift’s trademark cunning lyrical genius paired with sickly-sweet pop choruses.
Swift sings from a male perspective and daydreams about where she would be in her career “if she was a man”.
Swift questions why she and her heavily-documented romantic history isn’t depicted the same way as male bachelors and their never-ending list of models cruising around on lavish yachts.
“I would be just like Leo (DiCaprio) in San Tropez," she sings.
Swift paints a picture of a carefree future unclouded by the judgement of others over the duration of Lover.
Unlike her unofficial reputation-era mascot, a snake, Swift sheds her past like a skin and looks towards a brighter and more hopeful future.
If Lover doesn’t make you fall in love all over again with Taylor Swift, I don’t know what will.
Lover is out now on all streaming platforms.