Taylor Swift: folklore, 2020

Streaming Live X Live (AOW) | Deluxe Edition | 17 Tracks [67:01]

Released in July of 2020, folklore is Taylor Swift’s 8th album. Although it is 8 months after release, folklore is Live X Live’s album of the week, which means I can listen to it unlimited times and discover if the music and lyrics find a way to penetrate my mind and have a effect.  I’m pleased to say folklore has created a lasting impression and it’s certainly worth a review.  This seems a little condescending considering it was Billboard’s #5 album in 2020. 

Reading other reviews of the album I see it has been given every quarantine/lockdown label and cliché possible after it was released.  It was called ‘quintessential’ by many, a tag I found irritating.  I’m an educated guy and I didn’t really know what that meant so I Googled it.  It means “representing the most perfect or typical example of a quality or class.” As in, “the quintessential lockdown album.” Sounds like BS to me but that has nothing to do with the album, just the writers.

Looking back, it doesn’t feel like a summertime album or a quarantine album. folklore is much better suited for a day like today as I am writing this review.  It’s cool in Boston right now.  The clouds weigh heavy today creating a peaceful quiet this city is not known for as rain drops gently strike the window.  When I look at the album cover and listen to the songs it’s easy to imagine sitting near a picture window, cozy with a blanket and a book, and listening to Taylor and her acoustic guitar.  The chaos of the whole planet dissipates in moments like this.  We need these peaceful moments sometimes.

Although there are several songs that blend together in the background, there are a few that make the listener pause for a moment and just absorb. ‘my tears ricochet’ melts into ‘mirrorball’ and moves on to ‘seven’.  The lowercase song titles are how they styled the album.  These tracks are followed by ‘august’, which tugs at the heart a little bit because everyone relates to how fast August slips away and bittersweet young love.  It’s a psychological thing.  The weather doesn’t change much but we all carry that feeling of the summer being over and knowing it is time to go back to school and leave the care-free days of romance behind.

Now things start to get more intense. ‘illicit affairs’ has a light touch at first.  But when you dig into it you begin to sense the hurt.  A condescending older man doesn’t understand the impact he has on someone impressionable.  This song feels nice and sounds nice but there’s a bite to it.  Reality is tough sometimes.  ‘mad woman’ starts to show some sharper edges.  A quick drop of the f-bomb makes the listener perk up.  ‘epiphany’ is another pretty song, but the lyrics appear to be referring to a wounded soldier and then what might be a reference to COVID and our inability to comfort the sick and injured during all the hospital restrictions.

By now folklore has your attention and maybe you aren’t just listening to it in the background anymore.  Maybe you are Googling the lyrics to really understand what this talented woman has to say.  You realize this is a serious album.  Then you hear ‘betty’.  The chorus is very singable (not a real word but I like it) and the concept is teenage drama with a very serious twist.  We are left to assume what happened between these two friends in the song, but you sense the need for forgiveness and the anxiety of not knowing if you will get it.

My favorite track is ‘exile’ with Bon Iver.  It’s my first exposure to him and I’m hooked.  The song is very complex, though the theme has been used many times.  Two people break up and one sees the other with someone else in public.  The duet starts with one person and switches to the other, then they have a lyrical interaction in the middle as if conversating.  It’s very effective.  In the end he recognizes the mistakes he made, and she reinforces them.  The sadness comes from knowing it’s too late.  Bon Iver with Taylor Swift took me back to another famous duet.  Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand. ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flower’s’ uses some of the same conversational interplay, as if singing to each other when not in their presence.  I can listen to these two duets on a continuous loop.  Very powerful.

Time to wrap up.  I could write something about almost every song and I realize I have not given Taylor Swift the respect she deserves.  I love country music but often criticize the artists because so few of them write their own songs.  There’s a writing machine in Nashville pumping out songs assigned to artists to record.  Then at the awards show the artist accepts an award for a song they didn’t even write.  It’s false.  But Taylor Swift is the real deal as a writer and performer across any genre.  I loved the beats and the attitude of Reputation but have otherwise ignored everything she ever recorded except “Highway Don’t Care” with Tim McGraw.  I know there’s plenty of haters out there, but I am not one of them.

Score is an 8.  Best song is ‘exile’ and then ‘betty’. Thanks for reading.  Tell a friend.

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