Taylor Swift’s second surprise album of the pandemic, “Evermore,” debuted without warning on Dec. 11, and it delivered as another free-willed creation of lyrical escapism and unbridled creative fun. Some of the best works of art take time to process, and this month of listening has certainly made my heart grow fonder of this 15-track ode to Swift’s roots.
The moments of this past year have been born of the unanticipated, a type of uncertainty that Swift has turned into her lyrical playground. We have been shaken loose from this grid and been forced to reflect on the past, fulfillment in the present and hope for the future. Somewhere among all three of these time frames, “Evermore” resides.
Swift elicited the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner and co-producer Jack Antonoff. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver also finds his way into a more integral producing position on this album than on “Folklore,” as the indie-rock band HAIM and Marcus Mumford reside as backup on two separate tracks.
Perhaps the most unexpected collaboration here is that with Marjorie Finlay on the track “Marjorie,” a song that builds until you hear the singing voice of Marjorie, Swift’s late grandmother who was an opera singer. What is most goosebump-inducing in “Marjorie” is the conclusion of the bridge. Swift draws on the imagery of a closet of backlogged dreams that her grandmother left to her, a moment that calls for celebration after the reminiscent and sad lyrics preceding. Embodying the dreams of our family is instinctual, and I would argue that Swift made the most of those backlogged dreams that her grandmother left to her.
It’s undeniable that The National’s sound influenced Swift’s venture into the woods in the construction of her last two albums. Track nine is “Coney Island” and features lead vocalist Matt Berninger. For fans of The National and Swift alike, this song finally brings the two artists together in a form that goes beyond production and finds its way onto an actual tracklist.
“No Body, No Crime” features the sister trio band HAIM, longtime friends and
co-vacationers of Swift. This fictional creation echoes the same upbeat and chaotic lyrical composition of “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks). The song ends with two murders, pointed fingers and no definitive conclusion.
If you see me driving around Oxford with my windows rolled down and my head aggressively swaying left to right, chances are that I will be listening to “Gold Rush.” Produced by Antonoff, this track picks up where the pop infused songs of “Folklore” left off.
“Everybody wonders what it would be like to love you, walk past, quick brush.” Those familiar with Swift’s love life know of her boyfriend Joe Alwyn and their last four years of romantic secrecy. Alwyn, who appears as a writer on this album under the pseudonym of William Bowery, has been a subject of Swift’s writing since her sixth studio album “Reputation.”
Heartbreak and kindness are themes in this album, sometimes separate from each other and sometimes in tandem with each other. In “Champagne Problems,” Swift sketches the story of a one-sided love and the indifference of a woman. Heartbreak follows in the bridge as a mother’s ring is turned down and an engagement speech is rendered unspeakable. Kindness is restored when another woman fulfills a past love’s unmatched commitment, a conclusion that is peacefully met by all parties.
“Tolerate It,” situated at Swift’s prized track five spot, throws a massive insecurity out on the
table. “I know my love should be celebrated, but you tolerate it,” Swift recites. It’s that pause
between unreciprocated love that lingers in silence and yet steams forward. Heartbreak is even more palpable here because there is no stitchwork or well wishes, just uncertainty and
Taylor Swift’s career as a musician stretches from the high school escapades of “Picture to Burn” to this pulled out creation. “Evermore” is a confession of maturity and wrongdoing more so than a frolic through the woods. The song “Happiness” manifests kindness through the lens of mature emotion. “Honey, when I’m above the trees, I see this for what it is.” You know the expression of not being able to see the forest for the trees? This album is an acknowledgement of years of living under that trance.
The 15 tracks present include the mysterious story of “Dorothea,” whose eyes shined brighter in Tupelo (yes, Mississippi found a shoutout in “Evermore”). “‘Tis the Damn Season” talks about resorting to old love and habits in hometowns during the holiday season while “Ivy” and “Long Story Short” pair evenly with the “1989”-esque beats found on “Gold Rush.”
In her Netflix documentary, “Miss Americana,” Swift shares a rambling of thoughts on celebrity and her position in the music industry. “The female artists I know of have to reinvent themselves 20 times more than the male artists,” she says, “or else you’re out of a job.”
The difference “Evermore” makes is this: it presents Swift’s latest work as a gift with little to no strings attached. Reinvention, as Swift would describe it, was delivered with “Folklore.” Her latest creation lives less in a place of necessity and fanfare and more in the reprise of a care free attitude. With little to gain from this album other than artistic freedom, Taylor Swift flexes as an artist at the top of her game and in a reconstituted league of her own.