★★★★½ of 5
Admit it: You didn’t see this coming.
Truth be told, neither did I. And yet, here we are.
As if surprising us with the quintessential quarantine album last July with her masterful Folklore wasn’t enough, Taylor Swift just doubled the grace with another surprise album drop today, Evermore.
Is Evermore better than Folklore?
Ultimately, it depends on how you encapsulate this chaotic year, which actually served as a big part of Swift’s worldview when making both albums.
Swift has stated that Evermore works basically as a “sister record” of Folklore, and I think it’s a spot-on description of this album.
Whereas Folklore explores themes of frustration, anger, and acquiescence, Evermore delves deeper into the psyche involved in one’s resignation to a situation she didn’t want to be in to begin with. That “let it be” sigh, first examined in Folklore, is in full blast here.
What’s interesting with Evermore is that Swift seemed to relish embodying a wide range of persona, as evidenced by the songs “Dorothea,” “Ivy,” and “Marjorie” — all of which, well, bear women names. This allows her to detach from her reality and be fully invested with her parallel realities.
Sure, there are still Folklore’s ‘fuck you’ moments here, most notably on the songs “Long Story Short” and “No Body, No Crime” with HAIM; but the anger is mostly subdued by the protagonist’s fragile spirit. That fragility is evident in one of the most moving songs of both Folklore and Evermore: a duet with The National, “Coney Island” (the two albums’ producer, Aaron Dessner, is The National’s co-founder).
Tonally, Evermore is a little uneven compared to Folklore’s consistent lyrical and melodic themes; but what it lacks in consistency it more than makes up for with rawer vulnerability: Folklore packs the power to awaken the feelings of nostalgia within; but Evermore makes us question why we feel the longing in the first place.
Folklore carefully dresses our wounds, eagerly anticipating the day we get to see the dried scars to remind us that there’s beauty in pain.
Evermore tries to open the bandages just a few days in, just to double-check if we were really hurting at all.
Take for example what for me is the best song in the album, “Evermore” (a duet with — who else — Bon Iver). The song begins with Swift ruing what happened: “Gray November; I’ve been down since July.”
In the song’s climax, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon chimes in with the gut-punching lines:
“Can’t not think of all the cost
And the things that will be lost
Oh, can we just get a pause?
To be certain, we’ll be tall again
Whether weather be the frost
Or the violence of the dog days
I’m on waves, out being tossed
Is there a line that I could just go cross?”
If this isn’t the perfect summation of what our new normal has become, then I don’t know what is.
So, is Evermore better than Folklore?
There’s no wrong answer here. All I know is that all self-serving pundits (including yours truly) now regret making their year-end “best albums” list a few days and weeks too early.
Because — and I can’t stress my disbelief enough — with Folklore and now Evermore, Taylor Swift has been our saving grace in this weird year.