Watch the video for cardigan: https://youtu.be/K-a8s8OLBSE
The release of Taylor Swift’s new album has lead to her songs peppering the Hot 100 chart. That makes it a good idea to just review the songs in the top 20 since I’m still working on ways to review albums.
On balance I like T-Swizzle. She is an artist, that due to her length and breadth of music, has been an important part of my life whether I wanted her to be or not. This has manifested lately as her making great albums but releasing the worst songs as singles. The best example is her last album: Lovers. Lovers is a great album, but the lead singles, “Me!” and “You Need to Calm Down,” we’re both terrible songs. That makes her a very stressful artist because she seems so musically temperamental.
It is very interesting that the 5 top 20 hits are also the first five songs of the album, making it easier to cover that way.
The 1- Despite the title and it being the first song on the album, it is not the top song. It is, however, a good baseline for what the rest of the songs are trying to accomplish. It’s a simple song that is about lamenting when someone you think will be part of your life forever ends up not being that. It’s a very simple song with deliberate use acoustic guitar and piano. It gives it a strong pace. It isn’t great. The arrangement, though works, is simplistic. The lyrics fall into that same category. They work to get across the main idea, and have some good visuals and specific details to help sell song, but doesn’t tell us enough about their relationship before the breakup to understand why they broke up. Part of that is what the song’s about, but pointing that out doesn’t help sell it nearly as well as she thinks it does.
Cardigan – This is the single and big hit of this collection. This feels closer to what Swift was trying to do with “The 1,” and counterproductively succeeds and fails at being that. The production is far more complex. The mix of piano, drums, guitar, and technology makes it more interesting to follow. The lyrics are far more detailed. She can really paint a picture of what is going on and gives off just the right mood she wants to sell. The issue is that it has two themes that don’t mix, and is all wrapped around a rather contrived metaphor of an old cardigan.
To elaborate: the song is about the naivety of being young combined with a young romance. The issue is that the obvious, a naive person falls for someone who they should have known was bad for them has to find out the hard way that’s not true, is kind of what is done, but not fleshed out. This goes back to the same problem as “The 1.” There are some scattered details about their relationship, but nothing as to why they failed (and possibly got back together). This is excentuated in the metaphor of the old cardigan. The writing uses the image of an old cardigan under someone’s bed as a metaphor for Taylor feeling unwanted, and the other person wearing her as being wanted. This is flipped when she says that the person makes her feel like one only to not explain why, and then you must be wondering why the idea of being naive was brought up, and I agree.
Now, despite this, thanks to Swift’s voice and use of visuals it’s easy to ignore just how mind boggling the song really is.
The Last Great American Dynasty – Feels like everything Swift was trying to do in the previous songs put to a great success. For starters the mix and arrangement is the great combination of simplistic instrumentation and energy that keeps every listen engaging. Additionally the story feels like what Swift wants all the songs to be, a folk tale. This story follows an older woman who marries an older rich man. When the man dies she uses the money to party and live out her life as excited an empty as possible until that narrator (Taylor I assume) buys the house she used to have and uses the idea of how people saw the older woman as a ruiner of the last great American dynasty to compare her own feelings too.
The song feels like an honest to god narrative. The song presents so many thought-provoking questions with its use of the songs two main lyrics: “there goes the last great American dynasty,” and “she had a marvelous time ruining everything.” See, the woman, Rebecca (I know, imagine giving a character in a song a name, how original), already divorced once meets the man, the man dies with her to blame, and she lives the rest of her life with that on her. Now, it is weak that we aren’t given much about her own thoughts, but being ostracized for something she did wrong and caused the love of her life to die would take a toll on anyone. This is represented in the house Rebecca and the man, Bill, buy: Holiday House. A house to celebrate happiness going ignored only for the narrator to live in it, find out about Rebecca’s story and (given why it has to be Taylor to work) sees herself as someone who is blamed, rightly or not, for events that happened in her life. This doesn’t even get into just how artful the lyrics and details are, but if having the lyric “The wedding was charming if a little gauche,” doesn’t say everything you need to know, I don’t know what does. It’s a great song that makes the last two… difficult to get through.
Exile (with Bon Iver) and My Tears Riccochet- It night seem strange to combine these songs together, but they were both only in the top 20 and are basically the same song with the same problems. Both songs are the problems the previous songs had runoff and congealed into some of the most trite nonsense. So, to begin, both songs sound like they are supposed to be used as the first dance song for a newly married couple, but they are both about deeply sad breakups that, you guessed it, are underdeveloped, centered around an overly complicated metaphors, and get lost in the overly flower-ful language. With that, “exiles” is better, but marginally so. “exiles” uses the guest singer and more direct imagery to paint better pictures of what’s going on, but is still too muddy to really derive meaning from. The best exemple is how the word exile is used. See, the two people in the song feel like the other person was a country they were exiled from. They were something they loved but can’t go back to. It’s clever if it was given more focus. Contrastly, “My tears ricochet,” is a very direct image, but has too much symbolism that makes any point she might be trying to convey feel buried under metaphor. And, to be clear, the arrangement for both songs is just so boring that it makes listening to these songs hadd concentrate on.
Cardigan, the single, is the only one with a video out right now. The video shows Taylor playing the song on the piano until a light shows from the top of her piano letting her into a magical world, or she is literally being absorbed by the music. This is taken to the next extreme where she moves from the paradise to an ocean where the only thing to float on is a piano, or music literally saves her as, in the end, she ends up back in her cabin soaking wet and puts on a cardigan. Other than being beautiful the video gives the song a stronger storytelling quality. It’s clearly supposed to be a story, but Swift’s expressions and singing mixed with the visuals gives the song an air of listening to someone retelling a fable she feels is important over a song. This ties into how her piano is the only item to save her in a storm. Again, it’s saying that music literally saved her. So, overall, a strong video that helps a pretty good song.
When Cats 2019 came out they added a new song written by Swift and Webber. In a behind the scenes Swift (and I’ll paraphrase cause I don’t remember for sure) says that if you can’t get TS Elliot to write new poems, get TS (referring to herself). This always seemed rather egotistic and ridiculous to compare her to one of the most well renowned poets of all time, yet she said it and it baffled me. But listening to this collection of songs it’s easy to see why they would go to her. These songs are all very similar, but span in quality, and Swift can do other genres successfully. Now, I’m not sure how the rest of the album plays in full. These are the top 5 songs and also happen to be the first 5 songs on the album. I might be presently surprised or get more of the same sludge like “exile.”
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