Taylor Swift: Evermore – rich alt-rock and richer character studies

Not content with releasing one of 2020’s most acclaimed albums, Swift returns for round two

Anyone who feels they made insufficient use of 2020’s unexpected glut of spare time is strongly advised to avoid the prologue that Taylor Swift has written to accompany her ninth studio album.

It explains that, having already produced one bestselling, critically-acclaimed album while in isolation from Covid-19 – July’s Folklore – Swift and collaborators including the National’s Aaron Dessner, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, songwriter Jack Antonoff and her boyfriend Joe Alwyn couldn’t stop writing songs.

“It feels like we were standing on the edge of the Folklorian woods and had a choice – to turn and go back or travel further into the forest of this music,” she writes. “We chose to go deeper in.”

The artwork for Evermore.
The artwork for Evermore. Photograph: -

The result is another album. Not, it should be noted, a collection of offcuts and demos, but a fully-realised hour-long collection of songs rendered in muted, earthy shades: fingerpicked acoustic guitars, pianos playing tumbling, melancholy figures (the one on Tolerate It vaguely recalls the Smiths’ Asleep), electric guitars that teeter on the brink of sounding overdriven, warm, woozy washes of synthesiser, mandolin.

Evermore effectively continues the job that Folklore started, moving Swift away from mainstream pop into alt-rockier waters. It’s a smoother, less forced transition than it might be for some of her peers.

Swift has already changed tack once in her career – gradually abandoning the glossy Nashville pop of her early albums for something more brash and electronic around the time of 2012’s Red – an early indication of the malleability of her songwriting.

Melodically, at least, there doesn’t seem to have been a particularly dramatic shift. There are songs here that would obviously function as pop bangers were they decked out with EDM synths, Auto-Tune and programmed beats – opener Willow, Gold Rush, Long Story Short – but, equally, they don’t feel like they’re straining at the confines of their tasteful acoustic arrangements.

The real change is in Swift’s lyrical approach. Evermore declines to perform her old trick of writing songs that guarantee social media posts pondering which ex-boyfriend or frenemy they might concern, although you do get a lot of what you might call Swiftian lyrical tropes for your money: the bad-news girlfriend of Blank Space makes a reappearance on Champagne Problems (“she would’ve made such a lovely bride – what a shame she’s fucked in the head”), while the classic behold-my-mental-anguish-as-I-try-to-comprehend-how-incredibly-hot-my-current-partner-is humblebrag informs Gold Rush: “What must it be like to grow up that beautiful?”

‘It’s unclear where the stylistic shift of Folklore and Evermore is heading.’
‘It’s unclear where the stylistic shift of Folklore and Evermore is heading.’ Photograph: Beth Garrabrant

Swift is good at character studies. Lovers of gossip might disagree, but the well-drawn portraits of a disenchanted wife on Tolerate It or a distraught recent divorcee on Happiness feel substantially more edifying than the stuff she wrote for 2017’s Reputation, bitterly dressing down former chums for their mysterious transgressions.

Blessed with a particularly luminous tune, Dorothea cleverly flips the old country cliche in which a star tells you their life of fame and luxury is nothing compared to the warm comfort of their old small-town life. Here, the protagonist gazes at a now-famous friend on TV, vainly trying to convince herself that said old friend was happier living the simple life and might return.

And ’Tis the Damn Season offers a neat and rather moving twist on the Christmas song, in which old flames back in town for festive visits to their parents end up in bed together, despite knowing it won’t lead anywhere.

The album’s unifying aesthetic conceals some sub-par songwriting, all charmingly misty atmospherics and not much substance: were it not for the added interest of the fact it’s Taylor Swift duetting with the National’s Matt Berninger, Coney Island would just be pleasantly unmemorable Pitchfork-friendly alt-rock.

A country-rock saga of infidelity leading to two murders, No Body No Crime is fun – in a campy wink to camera, Haim sisters Danielle and Este appear both as backing vocalists and characters in the lyrics – but inconsequential.

It’s unclear where the stylistic shift of Folklore and Evermore is heading, whether it’s a momentary diversion or a path Swift intends to continue down.

“I have no idea what will come next,” she writes in the album’s prologue. Not everything here works, but taken together Folklore and Evermore make a convincing case for Swift’s ability to shift shape and for her songs’ ability to travel between genres: as lockdown overachievements go, it’s pretty impressive.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Taylor Swift announces surprise album, Folklore, with the National and Bon Iver
The singer’s eighth studio album will be released at midnight and also features production from the National’s Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff

Laura Snapes

23, Jul, 2020 @12:25 PM

Article image
Taylor Swift announces second surprise album of 2020, Evermore
Ninth studio album is described by Swift as a ‘sister album’ to the Grammy-nominated Folklore, released in July

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

10, Dec, 2020 @1:43 PM

Article image
Big Red Machine: How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? review | Alexis Petridis's album of the week
Aaron Dessner and Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon recruit Taylor Swift, Fleet Foxes and more for this album full of misty autumnal beauty – and a quiet punch

Alexis Petridis

26, Aug, 2021 @10:30 AM

Article image
'All that mattered was survival': the songs that got us through 2020
Mariah with butterflies, Bronski Beat in the Peak District, Snoop Dogg on a food delivery ad … our writers reveal the tracks that made 2020 bearable

Guardian music

31, Dec, 2020 @10:00 AM

Article image
Taylor Swift: The Long Pond Studio Sessions review – cosy campfire confessions
The pop star’s Disney+ movie about quarantine album Folklore reveals the potency of her songwriting, though it’s hazy on any ‘pandemic epiphanies’

Elle Hunt

25, Nov, 2020 @5:12 PM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2020, No 9: Taylor Swift – Folklore
Swift retreated to a country cabin to create a lockdown album full of imagined characters, dark musings and intimate moments, deepened by a new richness to her singing

Kathryn Bromwich

08, Dec, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Taylor Swift to headline 2020 Glastonbury festival
Swift is the first female headline performer since Adele in 2016 and the sixth solo female headliner in the festival’s 50-year history

Laura Snapes

15, Dec, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
Ed Sheeran: singer ‘didn’t want to live any more’ following deaths of friends Jamal Edwards and Shane Warne
Singer tells Rolling Stone he sought therapy in wake of grief – and that as well as his forthcoming sixth album, he has two more records ready for release

Laura Snapes

21, Mar, 2023 @2:24 PM

Article image
Taylor Swift rejects 'baseless' lawsuit from Utah theme park Evermore
Pop star is sued for copyright infringement by attraction with same name as her latest No 1 album

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

04, Feb, 2021 @10:08 AM

Article image
Taylor Swift copyright lawsuit dismissed by US judge
Songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler alleged the singer stole the lyrics to their song Playas Gon’ Play for her 2014 hit Shake It Off

Laura Snapes

14, Feb, 2018 @12:02 PM