Taylor Swift Returns to Form With Her Seventh LP

Ultimately, Lover is everything fans could ask for from a new Taylor Swift album and just a bit more.

Taylor Swift needs very little introduction at this point. The pop singer-songwriter from Reading, Pennsylvania has become something of an icon in the genre and has likely done more than almost any other artist to shape the current landscape of radio pop. Prior to this newest release, the six LP’s to her name thus far have netted about 42 platinum certifications with 2008’s Fearless being one of the few albums to ever reach diamond certification. That being said, the last year has been something of a rough time for Swift. She left her longtime label, Big Machine Records only to have her music bought out from under her by longtime enemy, Scooter Braun and her most recent release, 2017’s Reputation was her least successful to date, both critically and financially. With all this piling up and the pop landscape shifting drastically below her, Taylor needed a win and she got it in Lover.

If anything, this album is a testament to Swifts ability to process criticism and improve because of it. Where her previous release was entirely too dark and lifeless, Lover is a blast! Tracks like the opener, “I Forgot That You Existed,” “Paper Rings,” and the better of the lead singles, “You Need To Calm Down,” will have longtime fans and casual listeners alike dancing immediately. It’s a stark contrast and absolutely the right choice for Swift as its her ability to write feel-good jams which has delivered her lasting status in the industry.

That ability hinges, above all else, on excellent pop songwriting. Songs like “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” and the album’s title track feature tight rhyme schemes that color in nearly every line with exciting moments. It’s the care she puts into every couplet which has garnered Swift such a reputation as a songwriter. Though most of her writing isn’t life-changing or especially moving, it is tight, catchy, and dynamic.

Unfortunately, this talent seems to fall apart on a handful of tracks. “The Man,” and the lesser of the lead singles, “ME!” Were particularly frustrating for me. Here, Taylor tries her hand at a more opinionated style of writing, as apposed to her usual storytelling, and in both cases, the  results feel shallow and uninventive.

On the other hand, much of this record eschews the tendency toward upbeat, danceable music and instead focuses on slow, growing waves of sound which seem only to keep building. Tracks like “The Archer,” and “Cornelia Street,” are bright and enveloping with warm, towering synths coloring the soundscape. The pallet is, admittedly, a bit narrow, but the overall sweetness of the sound makes up for any shortcomings, and when the pallet does expand, as in the addition of the Dixie Chicks on  “Soon You’ll Get Better,” it does so quite well.

This is all made infinitely better by the records’ strongest quality: the bright, shimmering production. The shift to Republic Records is felt in the pristine clarity of tracks like “Cruel Summer,” and “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince.” The tuning on Swift’s vocal is warm, the buzz of the synths is interesting, and overall mix is just perfectly balanced.

The record’s weakest point, on the other hand, is the bizarre percussion that litters several of the albums better cuts. Tracks like “I Think He Knows,” or “London Boy,” would be perfectly respectable if not for the strange and often annoying trap drums which feel entirely out of place. For a record with such well produced instrumentation, this poor percussion robs nearly every track of any organic feel that was possible.

Overall, this album is a success. There are a handful of poor choices in the lyrics and the 60 minute runtime definitely drags as the final few tracks feel totally unnecessary, but these issues can’t outweigh the album’s strengths. The fantastic songwriting, lively production, and carefree tone carry the day and even the worst tracks have a strong moment or two.

Ultimately, Lover is everything fans could ask for from a new Taylor Swift album and just a bit more.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Hear Lover:

Veronica Stanton Debuts With Catchy and Heartfelt EP

827 Miles is an incredibly listenable debut which has me excited to cover many more releases from Veronica Stanton.

Veronica Stanton is a country singer/songwriter from Jenkintown, PA and based in Nashville, TN. She got her start in local shows performing with a family band and learned sing and play music at home. She stepped out into more solo work in high school and began to pursue songwriting in earnest in college. After graduating, she came to Nashville and began playing the circuit of writers rounds before starting to work with producer Dan Knobler. Now, she’s released her debut EP, 827 Miles, named for the distance from her hometown to Nashville.

The project opens with the title track and immediately, much of what makes this EP special is present. Veronica’s sweet, bright vocal is easily the highlight of the cut, made all the better by some clever and well-written lyrics. Her rhyme schemes create instant earworms that demand a second listen and, thanks to nice, clean production, the her personality bubbles through every line. Songs that focus on missing home are also less prominent than they once were and it’s nice to hear the topic addressed so well once again.

“Flying,” follows and quickly, the strong instrumentation begins to shine through. Anthony DaCosta helms the electric guitar, which he did quite well on Joy Williams’ album which I covered earlier this week. His gentle touch and ear for melody are invaluable to this cut and many after. Beyond this, the verse-centric structure with a two bar chorus is unique and Stanton confidently channels shades of Dolly Parton in her soft but solid delivery. It’s yet another track which seems to demand a second listen.

“Wildflower,” falls perfectly in the middle of the five tracks and fills this position incredibly well. It’s far more lighthearted, lyrically, and the vocal melody on the chorus is nothing short of fantastic. Dan Knobler’s production is almost a sugar rush of bright guitars and a well placed organ that creates a beautifully shimmering piece of pop-country. As if this wasn’t enough, Veronica proves the legitimacy of her old school aesthetic with an awesome key change in the final third that perfectly closes out the funnest track on the project.

As “Rome,” rolls around, the organ takes the front seat, as do the drums for the first time. The changes quickly set the song apart from previous entries, but the great vocals, fun lyrics, and melodic lead guitar is no less present. In fact, the chorus may be the best of the EP and Stanton’s falsettos are an interesting touch which I wish had better utilized on each track. Overall, while “Rome,” doesn’t jump out the way earlier cuts do, it’s certainly one of the strongest of the bunch.

“Won’t Be Back Soon,” brings the project to a close and the roaring electric guitar on the intro quickly establishes the track’s irreverence. This is easily the lyrical highlight of the album as she turns the classic trope of promising a quick return to home on its head by pointing out that, for her to come back would mean failure in her dreams. The brilliant touch of storytelling is just icing on the cake of one more fantastic instrumental, complete with a rocking organ solo. “Won’t Be Back Soon,” is a perfect closer and brings the theme of the EP full circle.

Ultimately, I’m left without much to complain about. Each track is perfectly paced, well mixed, and well written. The theme is cohesive but not overbearing and Veronica’s voice is wonderfully at home in this modernized version of golden age, women’s country.

827 Miles is an incredibly listenable debut which has me excited to cover many more releases from Veronica Stanton.

5/5

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB