Taylor Swift: Evermore review – This ‘secret wedding album’ sweetly sweeps you away
Taylor Swift’s metamorphosis into a thoughtful indie troubadour has been one of 2020’s more pleasant surprises. She ventures further into that territory with a hush-hush follow-up to last summer’s Folklore. But where that record was the equivalent of a contemplative walk in the woods, with leaves crackling underfoot and the wind rustling through, now she’s back in the log cabin, gazing into the fire.
This is, with one or two exceptions, a quieter, gentler companion piece to the earlier LP. Working again with Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National (Aaron has cowriter credits on a number of songs, Bryce produces along with the regular Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff), she has crafted a contemplative and often stunningly lovely suite of midtempo alternative pop. Not much is necessarily happening at any given moment, but Evermore has a transportative effect. It very sweetly sweeps you away.
Is it her secret wedding album, though? That’s the gossip swirling around social media, with rumours that Swift married her boyfriend Joe Alwyn in lockdown. If you care, there are certainly breadcrumbs. Alwyn recurs as a muse throughout, and Swift does seem to be pledging herself to him for, er, evermore.
“I’m all about you,” she whispers on Long Story Short. And she conjures with wedding-day imagery on Champagne Problems, cooing about “your mom’s ring in your pocket”. So if you’re looking for an inside line on her personal life, she has done her bit and scattered potential clues.
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver returns to sing with Swift on the title track, which closes the record. Were such a thing possible, it is even frostier and more fraught than their Folklore duet, Exile. Other collaborators include Haim (No Body, No Crime), while The National proper chime in on Coney Island, where Matt Berninger’s college-professor-having-midlife-crisis rasp intertwines beautifully with Swift’s voice.
After several listens, it’s not clear if there is a number here equal in stature to Folklore’s strongest song, The Last Great American Dynasty. But Evermore undoubtedly contains one of her rawest compositions, in Marjorie. It is named for Swift’s late maternal grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, an opera singer who passed on her love of music to her granddaughter. If you’ve lost someone – and a lot of people have recently – it will speak to you, especially as Swift delivers lines such as “If I didn’t know better I’d think you were singing to me now.”
Evermore is essentially Folklore Part Two, and the pace never really rises above mildly brisk. (The gothic hoedown Ivy is as jaunty as it gets.) Still, it is extraordinary to think that merely two and a bit years ago Taylor Swift was on stage at Croke Park surrounded by inflatable snakes and singing Look What You Made Me Do (and was fantastic). Now she’s collaborating with The National, Haim, Bon Iver, Ryan Olson of Poliça, and Marcus Mumford. (Okay, nobody’s right all the time.)
That’s a thrilling journey. (Not that pop should be judged inferior to lichen-hued indie-folk featuring many bearded blokes: it obviously isn’t.) At the end of a rotten 12 months, Evermore is an album that almost makes you believe in happy endings again.