There’s a reason Taylor Swift sounds so confident and cool on Lover, her seventh album and the most free-spirited yet. She’s in love—pure, steady, starry-eyed, shout-it-from-the-rooftops love. Arriving 13 years after her eponymous debut album—and following a string of songs that sometimes felt like battle scars from public breakups and celebrity feuds—this project comes off clear-eyed, thick-skinned and grown-up. It may be a sign that the 29-year-old has entered a new phase of her life: She’s now impressively private (she and her long-term boyfriend are rarely seen together in public), politically fired up (this album finds her fighting for queer and women’s rights) and eager to see the big picture (fans have speculated that the gut-wrenching “Soon You’ll Get Better” is about her mother’s battles with cancer).
As a result, she’s never sounded stronger or more in control. She calls out dark-age bigots on the Pride anthem “You Need to Calm Down”, sends up the patriarchy on “The Man”, perfects flippant indifference on “I Forgot That You Existed” and dares to sing her own praises on “ME!”, a duet with Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco. Tonally, these songs couldn’t be more different than 2017’s vengeful and self-conscious Reputation.
Most of the album is baked in the atmospheric synths and ’80s drums favoured by collaborator Jack Antonoff (“The Archer”, “Lover”). And yet some of the best moments are also the most surprising. “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” is daydreamy and delicate, illuminated with laidback strumming, twinkling trumpet and high-pitched ooh-oohs. And the percussive, playful “I Think He Knows” is a rollercoaster of a song, spiking and dipping from chatty whispers to breathy shout-singing in a matter of seconds.