Taylor Swift’s new album ‘an exquisite, empathetic lockdown triumph’
The sudden release of a new Taylor Swift album last week has come as a pleasant surprise — not just to the pop superstar’s fans, but apparently to Swift herself.
“Most of the things I had planned this summer didn’t end up happening,” Swift has said.
“But there is something I hadn’t planned on that did happen.”
Her eighth studio album, Folklore, was written and recorded in social isolation, collaborating with producers and co-writers via the internet.
Begun in April, the entire album was created in just three months.
But it doesn’t sound like a rush job, in fact quite the opposite.
This quite exquisite collection of 16 downtempo songs of love, loss, memory, desire, friendship and our abiding need for human connection affirms Swift’s status as a serious singer-songwriter.
You could call it a pandemic album, and you would not be wrong, but not in the apocalyptic sense.
Folklore reads the moment beautifully, by going soft and deep, rather than loud and brash.
Swift started out as a country pop star before colonising mainstream chartbuster territory.
Folklore does not quite shake off all the digital beats, plush synths, and smart-alec lyrics that made Swift a contemporary pop icon, but it dials them down until they are an almost invisible texture, lending modernity to some very traditional songcraft swathed in picked guitars and sonorous pianos.
Swift’s principal songwriting collaborator has been Aaron Dessner from American alternative rock heroes The National, a master of sombre, opaque, glitchy, lo-fi soundscapes.
“I had been isolating with my family but writing a ton of music in the first months of quarantine, which I shared [with Taylor],” Dessner said.
“A few hours after sharing music, my phone lit up with a voice memo from Taylor of a fully written version of a song — the momentum never really stopped.”
Dessner’s arty weirdness might seem an odd fit with Swift, but also present in the credits is Taylor’s regular musical partner and prolific writer-producer Jack Antonoff, ensuring the songs revel in lush melodiousness and never drift too far from an accessible verse-chorus format.
There is even a dark, brooding duet, Exile, with experimental indie folk darling Bon Iver, which he delivers with a gritty baritone country directness he’s not displayed before.
The black-and-white aesthetic of a cover photo depicting Swift alone in a giant forest may be suggestive of rural isolation, but throughout Folklore a perfect balance is constantly being struck between analogue intimacy and lush electronica.
Swift is venturing into the moodily modern terrain of Lana Del Rey, without her noir branding and aura of bruised victimhood.
Songs of defeated love such as The 1, Cardigan, Tears Ricochet and Mad Woman are filled with narrative details that are firmly in the tradition of country storytelling.
These are songs filled with empathy for downtrodden characters battered by life but always ready to fight back.
They are beautifully turned creations that bridge social distance with languorous melodies and deep emotion.
The lockdown may have been a terrible moment for music and musicians, but it has resulted in Swift’s most powerful and mature album to date. — The Telegraph
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