Taylor Swift is in love. That’s the thesis statement of her appropriately-titled seventh album, Lover; she’s not just in love with her partner, however, but with a multitude of people, places, and things. This is the most important distinction between this record and the singer’s previous six, which were often embattled with destructive relationships, sometimes at the fault of others and sometimes not. The follow-up to 2017’s reputation — a dark, paranoid album that presented Swift waging war against her detractors and at her most bruised and battered — Lover leans into her brightest indie pop sensibilities for a pop rock collection of songs that, according to the singer, serve as a “love letter to love, in all of its maddening, passionate, exciting, enchanting, horrific, tragic, wonderful glory.”
Sneakily affecting is the best descriptor for many of the eighteen tracks on the record. Masked in swathes of summer synths and rockier arrangements than the singer’s past pop songs have seen, the quiet brilliance of Swift’s lyrics require several playbacks to be properly digested. This is best exemplified by centerpiece tracks “Cornelia Street” and “Death by a Thousand Cuts;” sickeningly uptempo, the two songs detail the fear of losing a person who is so intrinsically tied to a place and and how to navigate life once that place becomes tainted, respectively. The singer also attempts to tackle political topics with varying degrees of success — most obviously with the sexism of “The Man” and homophobia on second single “You Need to Calm Down,” but also in subtler ways on the grotesquely-titled “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince.”
Admittedly, not everything on Lover works entirely to Swift’s strengths. “London Boy” hides its almost-nothing lyricism behind corny British references and namedrops; lead single “ME!” is just as tragic a collaboration as it was in April (if not more so in the context of the album); and the platonic “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” is a poor imitation of calypso music with its prominent steel drum. These stumbles are thankfully few-and-far between, but they’re glaring enough to warrant a few cringes from listeners.
The only other grievance is that Swift is oftentimes not the central voice of these tracks. While this isn’t inherently noteworthy — plenty of pop music has no voice and too many voices all at the same time — coming from such an idiosyncratic writer is at once jarring and a tad bit disappointing. Co-written by close collaborator Jack Antonoff and producers-of-the-moment Louis Bell and Frank Dukes, songs like “I Think He Knows,” “Paper Rings,” and “False God,” while solid bops, sound like they were written for another artist/project; this discrepancy is thankfully offset by the three self-penned cuts that showcase Swift’s immense talents: the title track, “Cornelia Street,” and closer “Daylight.” The original title track of the record, “Daylight” finds the singer reflecting on how love has mistreated her (and vice versa) before stating she “once believed love would be burning red, but it’s golden;” a voice memo serves as the song’s outro, with the singer declaring her intentions to “be defined by the things that [she] love[s], not the things [she] hate[s].” Swift has always infused her albums with hope, but she has never articulated it so clearly than she does on Lover.
Standout tracks: “Cruel Summer,” “Cornelia Street,” “Soon You’ll Get Better,” “Daylight”