Album Review: “evermore” is a bright, mature project to end the year

Hannah Jaeger, page editor

Taylor Swift used to be a perfectionist. As much a businesswoman as she is an artist, every career move was meticulously calculated. Each album release, single drop, and music video was prefaced with countless Easter eggs and puzzle pieces for her well-trained fanbase to hunt down like crazy teenaged bloodhounds. But in 2020, nothing is expected, and even her Holmesian following was surprised when Swift dropped her eighth studio album, “folklore” in July.  The indie-folk inspired record was met with acclaim from both critics and fans, earning five nominations for the 2021 Grammy Awards. Swift supporters were feeling pleased and well-fed and utterly unprepared for the whiplash that came with yet another surprise drop, “evermore,” which Taylor calls “folklore’s” sister album, not five months later.

Several questions followed Swift’s Instagram announcement, posted less than twenty-four hours before the official release. If “evermore” and “folklore” were written at the same time, wouldn’t the tracks on “folklore” be the better ones? Is this album going to be a bunch of “folklore” rejects? By releasing another album so quickly, is Taylor trying to compensate for the fact that she doesn’t actually own her first six albums? Upon listening to “evermore,” not every question is answered, but one thing’s for sure; “evermore” is distinctly different, yet complementary to its sister album, and features Taylor’s most mature songwriting yet.

Familiar friends grace the credits of “evermore” including frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, indie-folk prince Bon Iver, and Aaron Dessner of The National, as well as a few of his bandmates. Together they string together stories that may or may not actually be personal to Swift, a theme that ran through “folklore” as well. But where the preceding album told, “evermore” shows, making those stories more personal and affecting. “champagne problems” tells the tale of a couple not entirely on the same page; one plans to propose, the other with intentions of breaking it off. The piano chords ring out as if the song was recording in an empty dance hall, as Swift creates powerful imagery with pensive lyricism, “Your mom’s ring in your pocket/My picture in your wallet/Your heart was glass, I dropped it/Champagne problems.” She embodies the narrator, as she does on several songs on the album, instead of merely playing the part. Swift’s ability to place herself in the shoes of those she writes about shows real empathy and emotional intelligence, a far cry from the catchy but generic country tunes of, say, her eponymous debut album. On “ivy,” Swift becomes a married woman on the cusp of an affair. Her vocabulary is flowery (“Your touch brought forth an incandescent glow/Tarnished but so grand”), the guitars reminiscent of her country roots as she weaves this graceful plot of a love forbidden but oh-so irresistible. Never have I sympathized with a cheater so much.

Like “folklore,” “evermore’s” sonic foundation is in acoustic guitar and piano. But in keeping tune with her new hobby of throwing caution to the wind, Swift experiments with bluesy electric guitars on “cowboy like me” and industrial drums on “closure.” The result is an album that sounds brighter until you delve into its most vulnerable moments. “happiness” is one of Swift’s strongest songs yet in an already intimidating catalog. The narrator laments the end of a seven-year relationship (likely another one of Swift’s tall tales, she’s been dating actor Joe Alwyn since 2016) over haunting electronic drones, delicate strings, and lone piano notes. The song’s beauty is in its simplicity, as Swift abandons lavish language in favor of a short but striking refrain: “There’ll be happiness after you/But there was happiness because of you/Both of these things can be true.” She is truly the break-up song champion, always allowing room for pain before recovery. If that one didn’t wet your tear ducts, turn to “marjorie,” a cut dedicated to Swift’s late grandmother, who she credits as a huge musical influence in her early life. She hits the nail on the head, honoring her grandmotherly mantras and chronicling how those that have passed never really leave us.

But don’t be led astray, this album is not all glum. Another highlight comes in the form of true crime. In “no body, no crime” Taylor tells the story of a missing persons case, with more than implications of murder. She’s joined by her longtime pals HAIM, with the missing person in question named after Este Haim herself. Don your daisy dukes and tie that flannel for this one. Taylor unabashedly references her early works in this track, complete with banjo twangs, harmonica moans, and Dixie Chicks style harmonies. Taylor’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humor shines with ad-libs and Olive Garden references galore, and you can just about hear that grin she was no doubt wearing while recording.

“evermore” is melancholy, but never pessimistic. You can dance to it. You can cry to it. You can roll down your windows and speed through your small town to it. You can put in your headphones and walk through a big city to it. Versatility is Swift’s strong suit. She wears many hats throughout the album, but she is always herself. She’s no longer trying to create a perfect pop album. She’s not consulting boardrooms to figure out the best way to market each project. She’s not afraid to cuss and be impolite (there are six explict tracks on “evermore”). She is making music that she is comfortable with, that provides the best vehicle for the messages she wants to get across. As a fan since I was in diapers, it has been the pleasure of a lifetime to grow up alongside Taylor Swift and watch her grow as an artist, and as a person.