The best way to describe Lover is if 1989 was more middle of the road. That has positive and negative repercussions in that on the one hand it lacks the force and evocative detail of the best songs on there, but on the other, at least Bad Blood isn’t on it.
The opening track I Forgot That You Existed is another very bitter song about her haters. Once again, it’s framed as her personal growth but there are still some cringe lines, “in my feelings more than Drake’s” is a particular eye roller. It sets the kind of tone I feared for the album, cutesy, and malformed. In every respect other than the themes, this is not an opener, it’s neither a big bold statement nor a slow build. Me! or You Need to Calm Down, those are openers. This is just kind of weedy, like Shake It Off with slightly less wind in her sails.
Thankfully the next track Cruel Summer is a track straight out of her 1989 period. It’s not strong or memorable enough to be a single or comparable to one of the better album tracks, like Out of the Woods or You Are in Love, it’s just another throwaway song about summer lovin’ but it’s passable.
Then we get the title track, Lover, a soft country-pop track that has grown on me since that first listening. It’s a nice, pretty little song about building a home and a life together that’s pretty hard to dislike.
The next track, The Man is another anti-haters song, although specifically framed about how if she were male she wouldn’t get nearly as much backlash as she has. I feel like that’s probably true honestly, but its sort of hard to hear Taylor call herself “The Man” without cringing. This song could have worked on 1989, but post-Reputation her self-involvement just sounds kind of tiresome and just like You Need to Calm Down, like she’s equating her personal drama to social issues that aren’t totally related.
Then we get The Archer, which features probably her best vocal performance in a while and then I Think He Knows which imagines the man’s side of things going into a late night hookup. Her exaggerated vocals are sometimes pretty annoying but I like the catchy chorus and it’s got an interesting sentiment. I could see this one with some staying power.
Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince is possibly the most Taylor Swift song-title ever written, and the song itself is in a similar vein. It returns to her pre-Red American fairytale aesthetic but with the lavish production of her later pop work, imagining the prom queen running away with the state fair with her sweetheart. It’s a pretty great song honestly, but like Lana Del Rey if nothing bad had ever happened to her. “I like shiny things but I’d marry you with...” Paper Rings is an
irrepressibly upbeat pop-rock country love song, but there’s one really interesting lyric here: “I’m with you even if it makes me blue” which is a really subtly coded apology for not endorsing Hilary when she had the chance. I have no idea what it’s doing on an upbeat love song. It’s part of a trend with this album to include a few dog whistle liberal buzzwords out of context in the lyrics which is what passes for consciousness in the context of Taylor’s music.
Cornelia Street is a personal metaphor for some kind of ambiguous past relationship drama: “I never want Cornelia Street again”. I had hoped this was going somewhere, like there’s some kind of story about what happened on Cornelia Street, like that’s the address of an abortion clinic or a brothel or something, but I think it’s more likely just this apartment where she used to hook up with the guy from Style or Delicate. It’s a potentially great song but too lacking in specifics to be evocative in the way her best songs are.
Death by a Thousand Cuts is a fairly forgettable song about a relationship slowly dying, the only part of which stands out is the “I ask the traffic lights if it’ll be alright” line and London Boy is an odd song fetishising British men, which is something I don’t recall hearing before. Soon You’ll Get Better is a pretty boring country song, it even mentions Jesus, and the least believable line in Taylor Swift’s whole discography “...and I hate to make it all about me...”.
The religious imagery continues with the spacey, warm track False God, which has a cool saxophone in amongst the synths and trap snares. It’s possibly my favourite track on the album, with Taylor sounding sexier than she has for a while.
The next track is the divisive You Need to Calm Down, which I maintain should have been the opener, there doesn’t seem to have been much thought into the ordering of the tracks here. They put this goofy song on here at the end, and follow it with a completely straight-faced track and then another goofy one. It still sounds great and puts a smile on my face, I think the lyrics are pretty funny. People who like this song and people who dislike it are going to say all the same things about it. “It’s cheesy, it’s saccharine, the lyrics are corny, it trivialises homophobia, it rips off Paper Planes” Yeah, that’s what’s fun about it! There’s a Calvin Harris remix around somewhere that I like too.
Afterglow is another troubled relationship song, and a pretty overusing and forgettable one, but it’s better than the next track, the lamentable Me! featuring Brendan Urie or to give him his full title: Brendan Urie of that band called Panic! At the Disco remember those guys who used to be good before everyone but him left? It’s bland, it’s obnoxious, and it has absolutely no business being on this album. Although my prediction has held true and Taylor delivered a solid album once she got her awfulness out of her system with the leadoff single.
It’s Nice to Have a Friend is a nice sweet song backed by a steel drum and some relaxing “woo-ooo”s and a tender trumpet.
And that brings up to the closing track Daylight, which with its reverb and synths and themes of a new dawn sounds more like it should be closing out Reputation than this. It’s kind of a moving song actually, with its sweet spoken word outro.
It’s a shame but not surprising, that Taylor hasn’t produced as many big singles off this thing because there are plenty of good tracks on here but very little in the way of progression. With her last three albums all being big departures from her last, this is a clear move backwards. It’s like she realised she had painted herself into a corner with Reputation and now has to do an embarrassing climb down with a more stripped back sound that she’s not really prepared to do, so she’s just staying there. At least there’s no dubstep.