Taylor Swift: Folklore (Republic) ***
Taylor Swift has been known to send out gift boxes as part of her carefully stage-managed relationship with her fans. So it is sweet in sour times that she should deliver a surprise package for her entire fanbase in the shape of a new album, which arrives less than a year on from her last bells-and-whistles pop album Lover.
Folklore is an entirely different proposition, reflecting the intimacy and insularity of lockdown, with a directness to its ruminations on past loves and lives which are dusted with the country inflections of Swift’s early recordings.
Comprising a bumper value sixteen songs over an hour, this is no hastily assembled stream-of-covid-consciousness but fully realised in its airbrushed tastefulness with the assistance of her regular producer Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner of The National on multiple co-writing credits.
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon provides a baritone vocal foil on sombre piano ballad Exile, which circles gently and builds gradually. Otherwise, it’s solo Swift against a delicate backdrop of piano, synths and strings, reflecting on her childhood (Seven) and expressing a breathy regret which will chime with many on This Is Me Trying.
There is a Lana Del Rey-like lassitude to Cardigan (“you put me on and said I was your favourite”) and the fatalistic My Tears Ricochet, a ballad from beyond the grave about the intensity of young love which forms part of the album’s self-styled Teenage Love Triangle.
Inevitably Swift also shares musical DNA with The Chicks, whether paying tribute to health workers on Epiphany, the sisterhood on Mad Woman or eccentric arts patroness (aren’t they all?) Rebekah Harkness (whose mansion house is now Swift’s home) on The Last Great American Dynasty.
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