I never thought I would write the next sentence…
I absolutely love the latest Taylor Swift album.
I rarely listen to Taylor Swift. She’s an artist I have had to listen to on the radio when I’m driving. She never engages me other than a bit of finger tapping on the steering wheel. I usually have no idea what the songs are about but they usually have something that forces me to tap.
Last night I couldn’t sleep so I turned to Spotify. I usually fight the sleeplessness but for some reason I thought that perhaps some music might lull me into a pre-sleep mode. It was then that the new album Folklore popped-up. I don’t know why but I thought, ‘what the heck’. The first track I played was ‘August’, a bit of introspection that compares the loss of the month with the loss of a relationship. A superb observation of everyday life with lyrics that demanded greater analysis. The feel was forlorn and mournful but with significant highs especially with the orchestration towards the end, which hammered home the melody. Listening to the album was by now not getting me back to sleep; far from it.
It was then on to the first track ‘the 1’ which opens with a simple chord progression on the piano and supports the personal statements about a special relationship that didn’t quite mature. It is the simplicity of the track and the slightly understated nature of the singing that creates a genuine connection. ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’ is a tour de force with the vocal to the fore and once again the piano supports but never drowns, and sophistication is added through beautiful understated guitar and additional vocals. The simple drum pattern ensures it maintains interest and the listener is drawn into the story line of a life well lived.
As if things couldn’t get any better, we are hit by Justin Vernon’s distinctive voice, most known for heading-up the mighty Bon Iver, which is once again supported by a simple piano melody and some additional groaning vocals. The simplicity is maintained as Swift joins and repeats the lyrics, making it feel as if the relationship is similar but very different. ‘My Tears Ricochet’ emphasises the strength and sensitivity of Swift’s voice. It oozes with affection and pain and builds and soars with a string accompaniment.
‘Invisible String’ once again benefits from the simplicity of the arrangement, with the vocal explaining that there is something that connects her to her partner/friend – she has no idea what it is, but the fun is trying to discover what it might be. Another catchy and simple melody stretches over the first half of the song before it transposes into a minor key offering vulnerability. It doesn’t last long before the song returns to a more positive tone.
The crescendo that emerges at the beginning of ‘Epiphany’ takes me to Vaughan Williams and Kate Rusby as the song strengthens and Swift’s vocals contribute to observations of another. It is the genuine emotion and honesty of the performance that lingers. It’s the sense of completeness where the listener is brought into her emotions and general life that make this album such a great listen.
Taylor Swift has matured into an artist for all ages. The days of being popular appear to be less important because this album demonstrates her ability to convey the effects of solitude and time for reflection. She certainly hasn’t wasted her lockdown. What makes this more remarkable is that I suspect many (including me) could never imagine she had this quality in her. Album of the year for me!