Taylor Swift’s seventh album, Lover, exceeds expectations, as she takes a different path through her emotional cycle of valleys of love, heartbreak and moving on. On the 18-track opus, she blends her classic love ballads with more recent forays into electro-pop. Swift’s flavorful array of styles serve her mature, self-aware celebration of love.
The album opens fittingly with the snappy, buoyant synth-pop number “I Forgot That You Existed.” The song evokes a sense of freedom for those leaving behind painful past relationships. While relatively bare-bones, the song’s arrangement calls back to a simpler, happier time in Taylor’s career.
“Cruel Summer” then moves in with a darker tone but shifts into a bright mid-tempo anthem. Swift returns to powerful melodies with a vulnerable undercurrent, torn between affection as “an unbreakable heaven” that still “comes with a price.” The song’s sonics are a contrast to the title track, on which Swift provides a welcome return to form. Its 1950s three-count waltz rhythm seems tailored for wedding dances. Swift vividly portrays a fantasy of “forever” with that special person, her voice sprouting like a field of flowers.
Swift’s notable step away from her album’s central theme results in the biggest standout: “The Man.” This feministic power ballad addresses the ongoing struggles many women face at some point. She uses the song to turn the tables, asking what it must be like to live in a man’s shoes. She calls for the day when whatever she’s “wearing could be separated” from all her “good ideas and power moves.” A rapid beat and punchy synths generate fiery energy, giving the steering wheel back to those women who push past the societal standards so often forced on them.
Swift’s more mature lyrics coincide with her more confident songwriting within a new context. “The Archer” slows down the pace with an ambient synth-wave sound, steadily gaining momentum throughout its entirety. Swift uses symbolism of war and battlefields to depict the pain of love and friendship gone wrong. She can also march in with the sassy, popping energy of “I Think He Knows.” Finger snaps, bass beats and a quick drum tempo convey a feeling akin to a heart skipping a beat, like that caused by a crush growing into something more.
After an ensemble of cloud-nine songs, Swift breaks down in “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” where a love is lost and heartbreak is faced at every corner. Despite the solemn lyrics, Swift presents them in a musical sunrise with a morose stream of piano, guitar picking, and heart-beat rhythms. By juxtaposing her hope for healing with a slow death for her love life, she acknowledges the real anguish caused by toxic relationships while coming out on the other side stronger than before.
Though she’s grown thicker skin, Swift still wears her heart on her sleeve on “Soon You’ll Get Better,” a tribute to her mother. She strives for positivity while journeying through the hardships of illness. Demure guitar picking and tranquil violin accompany her voice, paralleling the feelings brought on by such hard an uncontrollable times.
Of course, you can’t forget about the hit singles. “You Need To Calm Down” stands up against cyberbullies and hateful people in general. “ME!,” a collaboration with Brendon Urie of Panic! At The Disco arrives with the backing of a marching band. Swift saves these for a near-closing hurrah. Her placement of these tracks exhibits her ability to keep her most eclectic outing cohesive and deeper. Even though Lover goes from acoustic balladry to stadium-ready pop in the blink of an eye, its impressive runtime remains vital and engaging.
Swift focuses on self-transformation and identification on the final track, “Daylight,” presented with a mixture of classic rock and electric undertones. She says that she wants to be defined by what she loves, not what she hates or is afraid of. Her final testimonial–“I think … you always love”—brings us back to the central theme.
Lover is the sound of Taylor Swift learning from her mistakes rather than wallowing in them. Powerful, luminous arrangements are found in both the most old-school acoustic numbers and some of her catchiest pop tunes. As she reconciles her country roots with her pop explorations, she transcends her past and embraces love.
Follow writer Amelia Parreira at Twitter.com/AmeliaParreira.