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Taylor Swift
Lover CJ Thorpe-Tracey , September 3rd, 2019 08:44

Taylor Swift's latest album, Lover, finds the Pennsylvanian popstar back in the spirit of her best place, finds CJ Thorpe-Tracey

For years I’ve had this ‘trio’ theory of Taylor Swift; namely that she designs all aspects of her career but especially albums in clumps of three. Hence transitioning from the country pop of Speak Now (that she wrote alone) into fully mainstream electro-pop on Red (working with hitmaker collaborators), which was her fourth album. So this week I’d been thinking of Lover as the first part of her third trilogy of albums.

But last night in the pub my mate Marc reckoned that, even if my theory has some basis in truth, despite it being Swift's seventh record, Lover is actually the finalé of her second trilogy; following on from Red and 1989; rather than the first part of a new one. So for Marc, Reputation should be excluded from my pattern and re-designated as a kind of separate one-off entity. ‘Non canon Taylor’, if you will, like Sony's Spiderman (not that good) or something. I’m not as negative about Reputation as many critical fans and I've stuck with Team Tay through the dark times – I knew she'd come good – but to be honest, Marc may have a point.

Filtered retrospectively through the fresh pastel hues of Lover, Reputation does have the outlier feeling of being a mini goth phase. Indie Kylie. Or even that intense make-or-break frozen moment, when the cartoon character (usually Wyle E. Coyote) has just stepped off the cliff but before he’s actually started to fall to his death. Whereas throughout Lover one feels like the narrator has managed to clamber back off the brink and onto safe-ish ground, just in time.

But I digress. Lover is a fabulous record, full of super-fun standout pop hits that make your heart burst. It oozes with Swift’s much more palatable upbeat sass. She’s in love and also thinking about different kinds of love. She's sad and scared and hopeful, addressing her Mum’s cancer on the beautiful Dixie Chicks collaboration ‘Soon You’ll Get Better’. Extra props for the late-era Dixie Chicks renaissance by the way; everything they touch at the moment is golden. Check out the six-minute collab with Beyoncé on ‘Daddy Lessons’, which is somehow even better than the Lemonade version.

But I digress again. Swift is also besotted with her current fella, a British actor. She’s added some polite political clout here and there – and does a knock-down job on ‘The Man’ pointing out that if she were a male artist, all these haters would give her a pass (loads of praise, even) for the very behaviours that fandom dicks get most prissy about.

Best of all, Swift has recovered from that dirty k-hole West and half the idiots in the world thinking she was an alt-right Trumper pinup. ‘I Forgot That You Existed’ throws him aside right at the start. ‘You Need To Calm Down’ isn't oblique; it's fully pointed about LGBTQ rights. She's even hit a rare level of self-reflection among pop superstars about her own ubiquity – in interviews explaining sitting out the 2016 Presidential Election by pointing out (correctly) that in that moment, when she was too present and divisive in the culture, her contribution simply would not have helped. It reminds me of when Phil Collins had a similar realisation about himself in the late 1980s, though that’s because I’m horrifically old.

As every critic is saying, as well as being excellent, Lover is also five or six songs too long. They're right but I bet nobody will agree which ones to ditch from their personal Lover playlists. We live in the era where album length is irrelevant. Swift could’ve made this a quick 36 minutes, or a three hour monster, only releasing physical copies on multi box-set formats. She would've still dominated the news cycle. If the biggest flaw is length but we still love what we’re getting, let's just manage that length for ourselves, eh. My business advice would've probably been to do a Robyn and release two halves, Body Talk style.

All Swift’s regular themes are intact. ‘Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince’ feels like a late twenty-something in a New York bar reminiscing about what happened to them at high school, if what happened to them at high school was 'Love Story' or 'The Story Of Us' (I know it's not actually the same story by the way, I mean in tone). Swift does still bang on about school too much. And a quick side-note about the title track: surely that’s the pure cheapest live snare drum sample on a major pop song in a decade? Apart from one showcase drum-fill in the middle, even Lana Del Ray (if she weren’t too stoned) would be mumbling something like “mate, mate, can't we pull the microphone a bit closer?”

‘London Boy’ feels like Swift saw all the web chatter about Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’ and had a ‘hold my pint' moment. It’s so pure shit eating dumb-ass, it's hard to fathom, yet somehow Tay skips away unscathed. Apart from Rifa my wife shouting “Turn that fucking shite off!” down the stairs. Tracks that were technically superior on Reputation were also just plain nasty. And it's not like Swift has to prove her intellect, when such lyrical and sonic evidence swirls around us.

Listening to ‘London Boy’ does trigger a broader reflection for me, about the phenomenon in our culture of clever people embracing stupid entertainment. I find myself zoning out from Tay's execrable joy and pondering the extent to which it’s a modern itch (either post audio-visual recording technology, or even post-internet) that makes humans now embrace stuff that specifically does not stretch or challenge their brains but instead satisfies certain basic level motes of pleasure. In previous elements of history, with the exception of religious pornography and throwing Christians to the lions, didn't people aspire to their highest level, culturally? Maybe not.

But I digress again. It’s not that Taylor Swift is ‘back to her best’ on Lover, rather that she’s back to the spirit of her best place. I could list what she lacks in comparison to specific peers. But the fact that I cannot bring myself to do that is partly why she’s one of the greatest of them. Lover is a joyous ride – perhaps looking backwards too often but still both thrilling and endearing – with one of the finest songwriters of the modern era. And I’ll wait another album cycle to find out if my theory of three survives.