Dec 22, 2020
Taylor Swift has always been a master of reinvention, from prodigious country singer/songwriter to tabloid-friendly girl-next-door pop alchemist to global megastar. 2020 has seen her conjure not one but two unexpected and quite beautiful albums, which demonstrate why she’s regarded as the most versatile songwriter of her generation. If folklore was her career zenith then it’s self-described “sister album” evermore is a continuation of the same journey albeit with a few deviations. And like folklore, evermore is an album that opens itself up to the listener with frequent exposure. For a singer who has written so many full-on pop bangers, there are of course tracks that immediately grab you, amongst other less obvious slow burners. Again Swift is joined by The National’s Aaron Dessner, along with Jack Antonoff, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and the not so mysterious William Bowery as what was framed as a lockdown experiment continues to deliver glittering evocative music of real depth and beauty.
“To put it plainly, we just couldn’t stop writing songs,” Swift explained on social media. “To try and put it more poetically, it feels like we were standing on the edge of the folklorian woods and had a choice: to turn and go back or to travel further into the forest of this music. We chose to wander deeper in.” This may sound like another piece of astute Swiftian mythmaking, but anybody who doubts just what music means to her, should watch Lana Wilsons’ masterful Miss Americana documentary. It affords us a window into Swift’s world, revealing her motivations, as well as the pressures, and showing how the feuding and social media bullying aimed at her became a huge distraction and took their toll on her. It also paints a picture of an artist who could have walked away from it all at certain points. Now with Swift in a strong and supportive relationship, she seems unencumbered from some of her previous burdens. And with both albums dropping in such a short space of time, it feels in many ways like something of a release for Swift, a chance to get back to what she loves and it presented an opportunity to work with like-minded artists she’s long been fans of. It’s enabled her to put her songwriting‑full of poetic lyricism, sharp wit, and clever wordplay—front and center, because ultimately it’s always been the music that’s motivated Swift.
The unsurpassed commercial and critical success of folklore has given Swift more room to experiment. On evermore tracks such as “cowboy like me” and the gleaming knowing wink-to-camera-murder-ballad “no body, no crime” (featuring the Haim sisters as characters and singers) she revisits her country/Americana roots. Elsewhere evermore has the same stripped back feel as folklore, all delicate fingerpicked guitars, subtle synth and piano flourishes which sculpt an understated, albeit quite beautiful backdrop for Swift’s lyrics and vocals to shine.
Her ability to weave narratives remains second to none, on “’tis the damn season” for example, which isn’t really a Christmas song, she tells the story of two former lovers who arrive in their hometown for the holiday season and end up together briefly. “Marjorie” “dorethea,” and “champagne problems”—alongside the quite stunning “epiphany” on folklore—are amongst some of the most heartfelt and beautiful songs she’s ever written and it’s remarkable that something so stripped back can sound so sumptuous. Surprisingly Swift’s duet with The National’s Matt Berninger on “coney island” is something of a damp squib in comparison with the rest of the album. However, her duet with Justin Vernon on the title track is far more successful, with Vernon’s falsetto a far better match for Swift than Berninger’s normally effective brooding dark stentorian vocal.
Ultimately evermore once again demonstrates what an astute, emotionally intelligent, and skilled songwriter Swift is. As ever her songs are rich in allegory, which will give her fans plenty to ponder, and there’s also a feeling that these two albums draw a line in the sand. There’s a sense of closure that gives an impression it’s now genuinely all about her art rather than the distracting accoutrements of celebrity. The pandemic seems to have freed her, given her the space to breathe, and has allowed her to produce her most elegant and sophisticated work to date. (www.taylorswift.com)
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