When people think of Taylor Swift, they think of break-up anthems, heart-shattering love songs, and her ability to write and produce earworm singles.
Over the past six years, from 1989 to Reputation to Lover, the brash production of her pop-perfection has overshadowed Swift's more subtle talents. But on Lover, long-time listeners can forge a connection to the woman they've grown up with, as Swift turns to quiet reflections to grapple with loss and the trials of love.
Admittedly, throughout the first half of the album, Swift feels removed, regurgitating the same spew she's offered fans for the past six years. The songs give little insight into her life (besides the intimate title track, "Lover"). At the very least, Lover's opening song, "I Forgot That You Existed," immediately pivots away from the resentment of Reputation and moves towards acceptance: "It isn't love / It isn't hate / It's just indifference." Frankly, the tedious lyricism is disappointing.
It feels like the further you delve into the album, the further you are from being connected to Swift. "Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince" is the most reductive track. It's a retreat back to adolescence, but the song sounds even less mature than her work as a teenager, as it's missing the vibrant and visceral emotion of her earlier work. Upon second listen, it's apparent that she's alluding to her past reluctance to address politics, but for the average listener, it fails to achieve its intent. (And anyway, it's a cop-out for her to merely allude to her political silence rather than fully explain her rationale).
Thankfully, Swift is able to make the necessary heel turn to a more personal and quiet style midway through the album. Of course, there are still interjections of certified pop-pandering hits, like "You Need to Calm Down" and "ME!," but you're better off skipping those. The album's midsection, from "Cornelia Street" to "False God," is almost heavenly. The tracks expose another side of Swift: sweet, mature, introspective, and at her most sincere since Red. For once, she shows a few signs of genuine growing pains.
"Soon You'll Get Better" is her most personal track on the album. Swift always does her best work in the midst of heartbreak, and "Soon You'll Get Better" twists hearts into knots, as Swift softly sings about the stress of having a sick loved one. The track is about her mother, Andrea, who was diagnosed with cancer back in 2015 and went into remission before the cancer recently recurred. The lyrics leave the star emotionally exposed: "And I hate to make this all about me / But who am I supposed to talk to? / What am I supposed to do? / If there's no you."
From introspections like "Desperate people find faith / so now I pray to Jesus, too," Swift moves to "False God's" declaration that "the altar is my hips." The transition is almost seamless, exploring how different relationships evolve, sometimes with beauty and sometimes with heart-rending tragedy. "False God's" slow-burn beat and her captivating delivery are soul-stirring.
If "Soon You'll Get Better" shatters your stone cold, glass heart, then "It's Nice to Have a Friend" succeeds in gluing the shards back together. The evocative imagery tells a story of strangers becoming friends, friends becoming lovers, and lovers becoming partners. The echoing vocals hover around the chorus, encompassing the listener; it's cinematic.
On her seventh studio album, Swift sheds her old skin of pettiness and resentment. Altogether, the album matures from "I Forgot You Existed's" indifference to "Daylight's" focus on love and sun rises, as she quietly concludes, "You are what you love." For the first time since Red, Swift mixes genres and plays to her voice's strengths to say exactly what she has to say. She could have written this album back on her bedroom floor, all alone, and we'd believe it. Lover may have its ups and downs, but its midsection proves why Swift doesn't need to retreat back to country music—those brief but poignant songs create moments when the album is glorious.