Friday, August 27, 2021

#14 Folklore - Taylor Swift

Original release date : July 2020

At last! At number fourteen, an album everyone's heard of! Not before time, eh? 

As I mentioned in the set-up post for this series, I played Folklore several times at high volume in the car on the way back from London and had I done it before I put the list together the album would very likely have placed higher. For some reason (I'd love to be able to pretend this is an isolated incident but of course it's not) even though I've owned Folklore since Christmas, that drive was only the second time I'd played it all the way through.

That said, the first and only time I played Folklore before then I'd been stunned by how good it was. I mean, I'd expected it would be good or else I wouldn't have put it on my wishlist for someone to buy it for me but this good? I wasn't expecting that.

I wanted to hear it again but you'd be surprised how few opportunities I get to listen to music alone and loud. The reason I took it on the London trip was specifically so I could hear it at high volume with no distractions. (Okay, yes, controlling a vehicle at seventy miles an hour in heavy traffic should probably count as a distraction but you know what I mean.)

Even prepared and knowing what to expect, though, listening to Folklore again was revelatory. I was talking to Mrs Bhagpuss about it afterwards and she mentioned something I hadn't noticed for myself: listening to music loud in the car makes the lyrics pop. It really does. And Taylor's lyrics are very, very fine.

I knew that a long time ago. My first introduction to Taylor Swift was through the video for We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together, upon which I eventually deigned to click after YouTube had suggested it countless times. As usual, the YouTube algorithm knows what's best for me.

That song has a whip-smart lyric that's funny and true but it's funny and true on the level of Bowling For Soup. No small achievement in itself but not quite the same thing as being funny and true on the level of Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen, the kind of company Swift's lyrics keep nowadays.

It came out as a single in 2012, by which time Taylor had already been a singing star for more than half a decade. I have not made any great effort to acquaint myself with her back catalog, something I most definitely should do at some point. 

I did start paying attention to her new stuff, if it happened to drift in front of me, but even then it was pure chance if I noticed any particular song or performance. I liked everything I heard but kind of in the way I like everything I've heard by Avril Lavigne, not so I was going to go out and buy any of it.

I only really started to pay full attention when Reputation appeared. She was in the news a lot around then and I kept reading about her on Pitchfork and she had her first #1 UK single and I began to appreciate, belatedly, just how big a star she was. And how good.

Reputation was the first Taylor Swift album I bought. It didn't make the list and I couldn't honestly tell you why other than when I came to look at the cover I couldn't really remember what any of the songs sounded like. That's almost certainly because I'd hardly ever played it. I have a tendency to not play albums I've asked for when I get them just like I don't watch movies I own on DVD. I'm getting better at not not doing that but I still need to work on it.

Despite having barely played Folklore either, I knew right away it was going on the list, based wholly on two things: the videos for Cardigan and Willow, both of which I'd watched many times, and my visceral memory of how strongly I'd reacted to the whole album the one time I did listen to it all the way through. (That does beg the question "If so, why only once?" for which you'd have to be me to understand. Not that I understand...)

Having now listened to all of Folklore properly and with full attention and several times I can categorically say it is one of my favorite albums of the last quarter-century and I am reasonably certain that with repeated listenings it will stand a fair chance of placing in an all-time twenty-five. It's rich, weathered and a little frightening and it will age very well.

Every track is excellent but the best are sublime. The aforementioned Cardigan and Willow, of course, but also the magnificent companion pieces to Cardigan, August and Betty. The three make a tryptych to equal anything I've ever heard in narrative songwriting. I played Betty three times in a row in the car at some risk to my life because I couldn't quite believe just how good it was.

I hear that Taylor's follow-up to Folklore, Evermore, is even better. That's hard to imagine. I'll find out if it's true as soon as someone gives it to me. It's on my wishlist. Too late for Pitchfork, though. 

The thing about songwriting is, it's a craft as much as it's an art. Artists and performers have peaks and troughs but crafters tend to improve steadily with age and experience, at least until their physical faculties let them down.

It might be too early to say for sure but I suspect Taylor Swift will just keep getting better. She knows her craft. I'm just glad that now I know it, too.


  1. The EVE Online corporation Lakisa and I are in goes by the name of Blank-Space, the corp ticker (an abbreviation shown when you look at somebody's ship in space) is TAYLR.

    Nuff said. ;-)

  2. This was a great album... didn't think she could escape the corporate pop curse. Really very impressive the direction she's taken.

    1. I'm always up for some corporate pop but yes, this is another level altogether.

  3. This was an incredible collection... didn't figure she could get away from the corporate pop revile. Actually quite noteworthy the course she's taken.


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