Taylor Swift's 'Evermore' review: Pop star returns to the woods for a spellbinding 'Folklore' companion
Just in time for her 31st birthday on Sunday, Taylor Swift has gifted fans with yet another surprise album.
And what a bounty it is. "Evermore," out now, is the 10-time Grammy winner's ninth studio album and second this year after "Folklore," her retreat into fanciful fireside folk after three albums of boldfaced stadium pop.
Coming less than six months after "Folklore," a songwriting masterclass that produced some of the best music of Swift's already prolific career, "Evermore" continues the ethos of its predecessor: twinkling piano, lush strings and plucked guitar, as Swift spins vibrant yarns about real and imagined characters. And like her last album, this new one is cowritten and produced by the National's Aaron Dessner and Bleachers' Jack Antonoff.
But "Evermore" is no ragbag of "Folklore" B-sides and throwaways. Rather, it's a sister album that only crystallizes Swift's strengths as a songwriter, as she moves further away from the candid autobiography that's defined her music since her 2006 debut. Much of its 17 tracks are "mirrored or intersecting" tales, Swift explains in the liner notes, dripping with murder and intrigue and tortured romance. Con artists and Hollywood dreamers inhabit the richly varied world of "Evermore," which in some ways is even more spellbinding than "Folklore."
By painting "Evermore" as mostly escapist fantasy, Swift dispels the usual gossip hounds that slaver over her work, allowing the album to stand alone as its own weird and wonderful thing. The singer delights in slipping between personas: One minute, she's reconnecting with a high school sweetheart over the holidays, playing house at her parents' home until she jets back to LA ("Tis the Damn Season"). The next, she's haunting a small-town Olive Garden plotting revenge with the Haim sisters (featured on the scorching "No Body, No Crime," a mischievous return to Swift's country roots).
It wouldn't be a Swift album without myriad Easter eggs and references, starting with the Bon Iver-featuring title track, which nods to everything from Emily Dickinson to last year's "Cats" ("Motion capture put me in a bad light," she sings of her role in the high-budget misfire). "Gold Rush" namechecks past music ("My mind turns your life into folklore"), while "Happiness" pulls liberally from "The Great Gatsby."
Seemingly named for Daisy's first words in the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel ("I'm p-paralyzed with happiness"), the soothing ballad finds Swift stepping into the character's lovelorn shoes. "I hope she'll be a beautiful fool who takes my spot next to you," she laments to her former beau, pointing toward a "green light of forgiveness." But the song's gut punch comes moments later, as Swift shrewdly observes, "There'll be happiness after you but there was happiness because of you, too. Both of these things can be true."
It's that kind of elegant simplicity that makes Swift's songwriting so continually astonishing, planting daggers in your heart with tossed-off turns of phrase. "Willow" and "Tolerate It" are lyrical standouts about falling for less-than-stand-up guys, while "Ivy" ranks among the most devastating love songs Swift has ever written. ("My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand," a married woman tells her lover. "Oh, I can't stop you putting roots in my dreamland.")
Other highlights of the more-than hourlong album include "Marjorie," a heart-rending tribute to Swift's late grandmother, and "Champagne Problems," co-written by the once-mysterious William Bowery (a pseudonym for Swift's actor boyfriend Joe Alwyn). The latter song delicately recalls a rejected marriage proposal, and features an all-time opening line: "You booked the night train for a reason so you could sit there in this hurt."
It's the kind of lyric that many songwriters would spend entire careers trying to write, telling us all we need to know about this character's emotional state. That it comes so effortlessly to Swift is the least surprising thing about "Evermore," which has us – gorgeously, gratefully – lost in our feelings all over again.