This is worrying — like listening to a speech by David Lammy and finding yourself, against your better nature, agreeing with it. If there’s one thing worse than your favourite artists making a duff album, it’s artists you can’t stand making a good one.
I shall have to tell myself that this isn’t a Taylor Swift album at all, but really the work of The National — a fine band, whose Aaron Dessner is a co-writer on nine of these 16 tracks and producer on 11. That may explain the spacey, quiet grandeur of these songs, the background atmospherics, the gradual rise in many to a gentle anthem.
This is Taylor Goes Indie. I suspect that during lockdown she has been listening a little bit to Lana Del Rey and Billie Eilish and grabbed herself a bit of the emo action.
Credit to her, then, for her voice has never sounded more lovely. There’s none of that grating, anodyne EDM with which she’s packed her last three albums, even if the cadences of EDM appear, in ghostly form, over a sparely played piano, or plucked acoustic guitar.
There are some fine tunes: ‘The 1’, ‘Cardigan’, ‘Seven’ and the pretty soft rock of ‘August’, to name the four strongest. But much of the rest pleases, too, especially the country — yes, she’s finally remembered she was a country artist — of ‘The Last Great American Dynasty’. (Hell, she even allows for a harmonica on ‘Betty’.) Truth be told, I only put a minus by that A out of spite. Oh, and the fact that her lyrics are still reliably awful, with their forced, clunking rhymes and precious conceits.