Monday Mixtape: The All Taylor Swift Edition
Every Monday, I make myself a playlist of (mostly) new songs. It gets me in the habit of hunting for new music and hopefully gets me embracing fresh trends. This week we focus on the new album by one of the biggest names in 21st century pop music: Taylor Swift’s Lover. This is the Monday Mixtape.
Taylor is good at a lot of things, but one thing she is definitely bad at is picking out pre-release singles for her albums. The first two tracks we heard before the arrival of Lover (“ME!” and “You Need to Calm Down”) are two of the weakest tunes in the collection, and as a bonus neither are particularly indicative of the sonic narrative contained within. She would have been much better off kicking the tires and lighting the fires with “Cruel Summer,” a groovy little piece of season-ending melancholy with a lot of single-tear garment rending (“What doesn’t kill me makes me want you more”) and a big honking hands-up chorus. Why this wasn’t in heavy rotation back in June is a mystery, particularly because Labor Day is right around the corner and it’s about to make no sense.
A song that I admire way more than I actually like, “Paper Rings” is Taylor’s version of a runaway punk song, but with a lot of digi-coustic guitars and way too much scatting. I admire that her reach exceeds her grasp—few pop stars would swerve so deeply out of their own lanes, particularly armed with lines as corny as “I like shiny things but I’d marry you with paper rings.” This is one of several Jack Antonoff collaborations on the album, and his contributions to Taylor’s oeuvre make less and less sense to me: He’s got his fingerprints on some of Lover’s most sublime moments, but he’s also contributing to these mild train wrecks. A for effort, though I’ll likely never listen to this song again, if that makes any sense.
“Death by a Thousand Cuts”
Along with the title track, this is my favorite song on the album, and it also happens to have one of the richer backstories. A few years ago, a writer and filmmaker named Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (creator of the too-short-lived MTV show Sweet/Vicious) was going through a horrible break-up and used Swift’s album 1989 as part of her recovery process. Also part of that recovery process? Writing and directing the film Someone Great, which premiered on Netflix earlier this year and is easily one of the best films to make its debut on that service. Avid Netflix watcher Swift also pressed play on Someone Great and was so inspired by the story of a group of friends at various stages of late-20s reinvention that she wrote a song called “Death by a Thousand Cuts.” It has a brilliantly off-kilter piano loop and contains the line “I look through the windows of this love even though we boarded it up” and is probably the best thing she’s done in any capacity since 1989. Circle closed!
You ever have a friend who spend a semester abroad in London, and he came back constantly looking for opportunities to drop in references to Camden, started calling soccer “footie” and unironically referred to everyone as “Mate”? That’s the experience of listening to “London Boy,” the worst song on Lover. YOU DIDN’T WATCH RUGBY IN THE PUB, TAYLOR.
“Soon You’ll Get Better” feat. Dixie Chicks
At first glance, this was my favorite song on the album, but I also realized that such a take was the most boring middle-aged white guy Rolling Stone rock critic bullshit I could have had. It’s an incredibly simple collaboration with the Dixie Chicks and features some knee-buckling harmonies and a fiddle that flows like pudding. This song almost feels like a trap, but I guess I’m happy to stick my dumb paw in it.
This is not an homage to the terrible Sylvester Stallone vehicle of the same name but instead a really haunting way to wrap up the album. Taylor wraps herself in synthetic gauze, laments a graveyard’s worth of dead relationships (“Luck of the draw only draws the unlucky, and so I became the butt of the joke/ I wounded the good and trusted the wicked, cleared the air and breathed in the smoke”) and then emerges anew after a spell in the wilderness (“Been asleep so long in a twenty year dark night”). There’s a really stark and beautiful piano ballad lurking beneath all that Antonoff hum, but the sentiment is so strong and Taylor’s convictions so clear that you can’t help feel transformed. This song is the audio equivalent of Tom Wilkinson’s opening monologue in Michael Clayton and I am here for it.