Album review: Taylor Swift remains introspective on ‘Evermore,’ her second album of 2020

While most of us were busy lamenting the privileges we’ve lost during the pandemic – like unfettered access to paper goods and the woe-is-me-ness of having to get takeout instead of eating in a restaurant – Taylor Swift busied herself writing and producing two albums.

Only five months after the release of her Grammy-nominated “Folklore,” a stripped departure from the fuzzy pop of “Lover” and darker-hued “Reputation,” comes “Evermore,” a companion to “Folklore” in style and spirit.

Given the luxury of time – no tour spanning the globe, no endless publicity churn - some lyrical bloat would have been expected and even understood. But with 15 songs clocking in at exactly an hour, Swift’s economical songwriting serves her well. That said, as much as fans will parse every lyric and joyfully drown in the Taylor-ness unfolded in front of them, “Evermore” would have thrived even more as a solid 10-song set.

That the album – which dropped at midnight Dec. 11 – is being released on the weekend of Swift’s 31st birthday is deliberate. She tells fans in an accompanying essay that she views the music as a bit of a gift to them, while also a healing outlet for herself.

“I have no idea what will come next. I have no idea about a lot of things these days and so I’ve clung to the one thing that keeps me connected to you all. That thing always has and always will be music,” she writes.

Filled with detailed lyrics that prompt a chuckle (“I come on stronger than a ’90s trend,” she says in the opening “Willow”) and twist the knife (“I take your indiscretions in good fun… now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life,” she sings with an underlying sneer in “Tolerate It”), Swift is clear-eyed throughout.

Her melodies, while often sharing a similar thread, cushion songs such as “Champagne Problems,” its seesawing piano chords owing a nod to The Beatles’ “Let it Be” (and, much like on “Folklore,” contains a well-placed expletive) and the swelling, soaring “Gold Rush.”

The women of Haim join her for “No Body No Crime,” which offers harmonica, a country lilt and a sumptuous chorus buoyed by the collective harmonies.

A focal point for Swifties will be “Happiness,” which finds the singer at her most pensive. “I haven’t met the real me yet,” she sings in a husky voice as she grapples with the realization of love lost when the winning smile turned to a smirk. “I can’t see facts through all of my fury,” she admits.

While “Gold Rush” presents the closest sound to her commercial fare and “Long Story Short” detours with skittering electronic beats driving it, the root of “Evermore” is encapsulated by the title track, a stark piano-and-strings ballad featuring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, her buddy from “Folklore” (he also appears elsewhere on the album).

It’s an introspective closer, but the light sounds of birds chirping in the background indicate that Swift’s purpose is to force listeners to seek out the sun amid the gloom.

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