“Folklore”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #8

I commented that, during Lover, Taylor seemed to be throwing musical ideas to the wall to see what sticks. Not so on Folklore, which features perhaps the most cohesive tone of any of her albums (even more so than the sequel Evermore). Here Taylor launches her artistry in new, chill directions, while both capturing the sad weariness of the pandemic era yet crafting a work that seems destined to live far beyond that moment in time. Even if some tracks miss the mark, the lofty heights here merit the album’s wide acclaim–an acclaim that now includes the Grammy for Album of the Year. That’s an honor shared with Fearless and 1989, which puts Folklore in rarefied company.

Folklore (released 2020)
“Isn’t it romantic how all of my elegies eulogize me?

“The 1” (6.5/10): Taylor doesn’t tend to lead off an album with her strongest songs, and this is no exception, although it does effectively set the reflective mood of Folklore.

“Cardigan” (8/10): This song does so many things so well, filled with regret and pain and passion and also an easy sense of ‘chill,’ all at the same time.

“Last Great American Dynasty” (9.5/10): Taylor’s storytelling emerges in full force here in a breezy, beachy tune that brings an important punch of positive energy to the album.

“Exile” (10/10): Taylor’s duets with men tend to turn out somewhere between ‘great’ to ‘awesome,’ and for my part, I think this expansive, powerful song is (so far) the best duet she’s ever done.

“My Tears Ricochet” (8.5/10): This follows the Track 5 tradition of highly personal, emotionally resonant songs that also serve as album standouts.

“Mirrorball” (10/10): There’s a moment in this song when the instrumentals fade to almost nothing and we’re left with Taylor, describing herself spinning on her tallest tiptoes, and to me it’s one of the most powerfully beautiful moments in any Swift song.

“Seven” (8.5/10): This is an achingly beautiful reminiscence of childhood, filled with equal parts sweetness and melancholy, and laced with beautiful imagery throughout (yes, I was tempted to give it a 7/10, but that’s definitely too low!).

“August” (9/10): Like “Last Great American Dynasty,” it’s a song with a breezy/beachy vibe, and it’s one of the more memorable songs on the album; when Taylor really gets into the song on the Disney+ Long Pond Studio Sessions, you can tell it’s one of her favorite Folklore tracks.

“This is Me Trying” (5/10): “I was so ahead of the curve that the curve became a sphere” is a cool line, but I’m sorry, the reverb/echoing just doesn’t do it for me on this one, especially when combined with the slow pace of the song; the Disney+ Long Pond Studio Sessions is a much improved version.

“Illicit Affairs” (7.5/10): This morality tale strives for greatness, particularly in the bridge-that-becomes-an-ending, but doesn’t quite get there.

“Invisible String” (9/10): I’m a sucker for self-referential Taylor, and this is self-referential Taylor that spans her entire career to date; it’s also an unabashed love song, which is a welcome change from the breakup-heavy themes on much of the rest of Folklore.

“Mad Woman” (4.5/10): If there’s a consistent weakness on Folklore, it might be the tendency for the lyrical ambitions to outpace the quality of the music, and that weakness is on display in this mediocre entry.

“Epiphany” (3.5/10): It sounds as if Taylor wrote this one after listening to one too many sappy pandemic car commercials back in April 2020.

“Betty” (8.5/10): Revisiting her country style was a bold choice, and it works; this is an instant classic (but sorry, James, I don’t think showing up at a party unannounced and insulting Betty’s friends is likely to win you many points, and “Cardigan” suggests it probably didn’t).

“Peace” (5.5/10): There’s artistry in the spare use of instruments, and the lyrical sentiment is sweet, but I also just can’t get too excited about this one.

“Hoax” (3/10): And by this point, if you’re going to serve up another slow, somber song, I’m sorry, it better be amazing; this one isn’t.

“The Lakes” (8.5/10): In a rich synthesis of lyrics and music, this song so beautifully and hauntingly embodies a deep sense of longing for beauty and nature, shared with someone you love.

Folklore mean = 7.35 (standard deviation = 2.26)

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