Oct 27, 2022
By Andy Von Pip
Midnight has long been associated with magic and mystery, with transformation, imagination, rumination, and dark nights of the soul. Or in Taylor Swift’s case 13 of them.
On her 10th studio album, Swift examines 13 midnights, on a concept album that she explains shines a light on “the stories of 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout my life.” As such we are presented with various iterations of Swift such as, to name but three, the “wronged Taylor”, the “vengeful Taylor,” and the “heartbroken Taylor.” However, she’s also incredibly candid about her own failings, for example, on “Midnight Rain” she sings, “He wanted a bride, I was making my own name/Chasing that fame, he stayed the same,” later adding “I broke his heart ‘cause he was nice/He was sunshine, I was midnight rain.”
Midnights, according to Swift is informed by “self-loathing, revenge, what might have been, falling in love and falling apart.” There’s a shift away from the critically acclaimed sound she so artfully crafted on folklore and evermore, as she relocates from her “folklorian” log cabin back to the big city. Midnights employs elegantly understated production, which lends a real sense of intimacy to proceedings, and as you might expect given it’s an album full of moonlit musings spread over insomnia-induced nights throughout her career, there are melodic and lyrical nods to her former musical eras.
Taken at face value it’s undoubtedly a beautifully crafted album of minimalist ambient electronic pop imbued with subtle elegance, replete with remarkably frank lyrics. It could also be her sweariest album to date, with a liberal sprinkling of “fucks” and includes for the first time, an admirable use of the word “dickhead” (on “Question …?”). You certainly get a real sense of a fretful, restless mind, and a feel for the spiraling nocturnal anxiety, which so often feels magnified in the wee small hours.
One thing that is often overlooked is Swift’s dark-gallows sense of humor, which she often deploys as a defense mechanism. For example, on the shimmering single “Anti-Hero” she offers the brilliantly barbed, “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism?,” comparing herself to a disingenuous politician in response to people questioning her acts of generosity. Elsewhere, “Snow on the Beach” is quite simply a beautiful love song, free from world-weary cynicism and full of wonderment which features a “cough-and-you-might-miss-it” cameo from Lana Del Rey, whose vocals are so blended with Swift’s it’s initially difficult to work out who is singing what. It’s a track that proves that subtlety can be far more disarming and moving than the overwrought powerhouse bellowing that some of Swift’s peers seem to think passes for emotion. And whilst subtly is the name of the game on Midnights, there are also some 24-carat pop bangers such as on the magnificently upbeat “Bejeweled” or the gleeful “Karma,” proving Swift’s skill for crafting huge melodic earworms remains second to none.
Whilst lyrically Midnights doesn’t quite match the poetic grandeur of folklore and evermore, there’s plenty of fun to be had, even Swift’s less elegant rhymes don’t jar, served up as they are, with a knowing wink and delivered in an engaging, relatable conversational tone.
Of course, if you don’t appreciate Taylor Swift’s talent or appeal by now when she’s clearly at her creative zenith then you probably never will and that’s fine. After all, everybody has the right to be wrong. However, if it’s simply down to an inherent sense of indie snobbery then perhaps it’s time to “Shake It Off,” throw off those shackles, and open your ears to more than one genre.
The Midnights 3am Edition, which came out just hours after the album’s release, features what might be classed as “outtakes,” and serve to further demonstrate what a talent she is. Amongst the seven additional tracks, it features three songs co-written with The National’s Aaron Dessner—“The Great War,” “High Infidelity,” and “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”—as well as the beautifully affecting “Bigger Than the Whole Sky,” which is illuminated by a gorgeous lilting Mazzy Star-esque twang and Swift’s heartfelt ethereal vocal.
Swift is an artist who continues to evolve, delight, and surprise, and whilst she is in such creatively prolific form it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if she has yet another album up her sleeve for 2023. Although one suspects and gives thanks, that it very likely won’t include a “mockney” duet with Damon Albarn. (www.taylorswift.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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