Earlier this summer, I finished my review of folklore with this unwitting prophecy: “folklore has made me quite greedy, now being able to believe that at any minute I could get another 16 songs worth of Taylor Swift stories. There is always going to be a part of my brain waiting on them.” A neat finish, I thought. Wrap it up, and send it forward. Little did I know what was in store. On 10th December, Swift announced her 9th studio album evermore would be ours the very next day. On the morning of the 11th we woke up to 15 new tracks (17 on the physical edition) and some of the best writing of Swift’s career.
Having spent more time with Swift’s music these last few months than I ever did on half of my finals papers, I’m going to dare to guide you through this new offering. Long albums can be daunting enough, whether or not they are the second long album an artist has given you that year. I am hoping my guide will act as a springboard to your own relationship with these tracks. Be warned, you might want to grab a cup of tea now. It’s a long one.
evermore opens with the rolling picks of ‘willow’, like the darker cousin of ‘invisible string’. With its ‘wreck my plans, that’s my man’, the track sets the tone for a collection about the complexity of situations- or ‘contrarian shit’, as ‘gold rush’ will later put it. Willow sees love as intrigue or a game, something you can cheat at, something always forceful. The verses play with the same threatening mood as Swift’s Civil Wars collaboration for the Hunger Games soundtrack, ‘Safe and Sound’. Of course, love is all the more captivating for that: ‘Wherever you stray, I follow’.
Despite opening with a piano part reminiscent of Reputation’s finale ‘New Years Day’, ‘champagne problems’ runs in the opposite direction. Rather than joyful wonder at a shared life, ‘champagne problems’ stares at the chasm in the moment when such a life has been rejected. It plays like a runaway train, as the implications of the refused proposal crash around the narrator’s thoughts. The iambs at the end of each chorus line are a visceral detail of lurching pain. The emotions are only deepened by the track’s shared chords with *that* beloved heartbreak anthem from Red. ‘Champagne problems’ is built on the ghost of ‘All Too Well’. I truly believe this song will live for many years. It has all the compelling ingredients of Springsteen’s timeless ‘The River’. Yes, okay, it is my favourite.
Daydreams have never sounded better, as ‘gold rush’ provides the anthem for those afraid of vulnerability but who can’t help but dream of it anyway- aka the legions of fans who grew up on Swift’s fairytales, only to discover life isn’t quite so. There’s a lovely contrast between the thrumming anticipation of the verses and the soaring lift of the chorus where thoughts run away with themselves. The introduction is one of her best, with its strings and Phoebe Bridgers-like vocals that return for the outro. The chorus’s day old tea has become one of my favourite examples of Swift’s microscopic vision for the details of life. I want to associate the story with ‘august’ and folklore’s love triangle, as if it was the moment before ‘august’s’ narrator offered James that lift. But then again, that might just be because of the title of the movie August Rush.
‘TIS THE DAMN SEASON
‘’tis the damn season’ takes the refusal of ‘gold rush’ to do anything more than dream, and pushes it over the edge. It’s a sweet, quiet proposition to rekindle something with a hometown flame- a tentative suggestion after last orders are called, built on nostalgia and jaded maturity. The narrator is open about the limitations of the situation they are proposing, but romantic enough to propose it anyway. The chorus is one of the great earworms of evermore.
The fabled track five. On evermore, we get ‘tolerate it’, a ‘Dear John’-like recognition of an imbalance of power in a stagnant relationship: ‘you’re so much older and wiser’. Yet, unlike ‘Dear John’, there is no exorcism of the toxic partner. ‘tolerate it’ is paralysed in the situation, as Swift paints heart-breaking resignation with the low swing of the melody and the finality of each end-stopped line of the verses. Whilst the track rises to frustration in the breathy chorus, it never quite breaks through in the way the narrator is threatening to. The quietness of the rage in the middle 8 is so very sad. Swift’s character remains, sitting, watching in the same place she began.
NO BODY, NO CRIME (feat HAIM)
Right on time, Swift delivers a bit of emotional relief in this delightful country tale of cheating husbands and murder plots, featuring HAIM. The fun they must have had writing and recording this number is palpable. The best we can hope for 2021 is the opportunity to belt this track at a karaoke night. It’s like Desperate Housewives meets ‘Before He Cheats’, with a bit of Miranda Lambert’s ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ or ‘Kerosene’ thrown in. What’s that you say? You didn’t have your country music Youtube videos phase yet? It’s never too late.
But of course, with no time to spare we are back to it with heart-wrenching sucker punches. ‘Happiness’ is an elevating, ‘The Archer’-like ode to moving forward after the breakdown of a relationship and the requisite dividing up of lives and things. It’s a meditative and mature glimpse at how our lives change: ‘There’ll be happiness after you/ But there was happiness because of you/ Both of these things can be true.’’ There’s almost something theatrical about the song, in the way it plays its own words, and turns them around in line with its growing conviction: ‘I haven’t met the new me yet’ becomes ‘You haven’t met the new me yet’. It’s the great solo of a show, as a female lead begins to trust in the light at the end of the tunnel once more.
Friendships are one of the great loves of our lives, and friendship gets its tribute on evermore with ‘dorothea’. In a Lumineers-esque way, it’s delightfully brash. Circumstances may change, but memories and love remains. It’s fun, but in the spirit of honesty it’s my least favourite track on the album. But one track will always have to have that position won’t they? People say it’s about Selena Gomez- and when I say people these days, I do of course mean either a Twitter thread or a Tiktok video.
CONEY ISLAND (feat. THE NATIONAL)
It is a real gift to hear Swift and Matt Berninger together. Her softness and his gravel only bring out the best in each other as they sing about this doomed relationship. The mood feels- positively- very The National. I mean this in the terms of its perspective of watching chaos unfold, helplessly. They are seeing all, and admit it in a waterfall of imagery, but are doing nothing about it. The end of this relationship is as inevitable as the sun going down. I’ll be thinking about the cool brutality of Berninger’s ‘sorry for not willing you an arcade ring’ for a long time.
In this rustic tale of an intoxicating affair, we get one of the best choruses on the collection. Swift’s ‘Oh goddamn’ is so visceral. I really hope it’s the ‘tolerate it’ character getting the love they deserve.
COWBOY LIKE ME
Two hustlers fall for each other and give up the game in ‘cowboy like me’, a country leaning, end of the night slow dance towards love. Swift’s chorus intonation is gorgeous as she delivers ‘we could be love’ and the thrown away elision of ‘forward’ matched with ‘for it’. Such an understated and intimate song promises to be a long-term favourite.
LONG STORY SHORT
Coming at us with the energy of Fearless bonus tracks and Red’s ‘Starlight’, ‘long story short’ is the sister to ‘invisible string’. It’s scattered with imagery that recalls Swift’s back catalogue, suggesting, like its sister track, that Joe Alwyn might just be the end of the line.
Just as folklore’s extraordinary track ‘epiphany’ is inspired by her grandfather and his experience in the war, in ‘marjorie’ Swift is writing about her grandmother, an opera singer. Its a magical incantation, and a wonderful testimony to influence and shared wisdom- ‘never be so polite you forget your power’ is sage advice to the millions tuning in. Just like a grandmother, there is something so beautifully familiar in the instrumentation. I have deliberately not read any interviews or reviews yet, so as not to colour my own interpretation of the album, but I wonder whether that is a recording of Marjorie we hear at the end? Once this is published I’ll go investigate.
A metallic detail in ‘marjorie’ is ramped up into the most fantastic, invigorating percussion for ‘closure’, a track that inverts the typical Swiftian format of reaching out to an ex (‘Tim McGraw’, ‘Back to December’ etc) by rejecting it. ‘I’m fine with my spite and my tears and my beers and my candles’, Swift sings. Not everything has to be tidy. But you know what is tidy? Swift’s foray into industrial production. Please, please, please keep it up.
And we got there, to the final track of the collection- ‘evermore’, featuring Bon Iver. True, ‘evermore’ is no ‘exile’, but that would be an unfair comparison. They don’t belong in the same category of song. Instead of dueting ex-lovers, I see ‘evermore’ as an elegy for the year that has passed us. The song is honest about feelings of stagnation and hopelessness, but then the arrival of Justin Vernon’s voice is the catalyst for change. To me, his voice means art, the open door. Swift returns, in the creaking, cabin world of folklore and evermore, and now with hope. There was a way out after all.
I think I have heard people call Star Wars a Space-Opera, and I’m assuming that’s something to do with its scale and ambition. That kind of framing should belong to evermore. The tales are bottomless, yet vibrant. Predominantly sad, yes, but so full of life in their complexity and maturity. I hope, having got here, you will see that in evermore, and not let its proximity to folklore cloud your vision. If it does, I’m afraid you’re just acting a bit spoilt. Check yourself.
Swift is a titan, and here’s to hoping for a Springsteen on Broadway-esque tour of both albums. I’d sell an organ for tickets.