Taylor Swift – Midnights
Few acts treat each of their albums as clearly defined eras to the degree that Taylor Swift does. Her catalogue gets more diverse with each new addition, an ever broadening palette of moods and vibes for every occasion. Though she never makes the same record twice, you can count on some common hallmarks of her artistry to be present each time as a unifying thread. Earnest heartfelt balladry, earworm melodies, some of modern pop’s most infectious and memorable choruses, and bridges that consistently make her loyal fanbase go feral. At this stage of her career she’s mastered the kind of erudite turns of phrase that make you wonder if she reads a thesaurus for fun in her free time, and nowhere else can you so confidently count on finding both a masterclass in songwriting and moments of pure weapons-grade cringe on the same album. When you hit play on a Taylor Swift album, you know what to expect to a certain degree; as drastically as the décor may change, you can trust the layout of the house to remain much the same.
Midnights sets itself apart as a new era, not through what it adds, but through what it lacks. Those hallmarks that usually shine so brightly seem disappointingly dim here. Beyond opening track ‘Lavender Haze’, the shimmering synthpop of ‘Bejeweled’ and album highlight ‘Anti-Hero’, good hooks seem to be in short supply. With such vast stretches between the few good choruses the rest of the album all just blends together as one homogenous mass. If you can muster enough attention to dig deeper into the lyrics you won’t be rewarded with Taylor on top form. Lines like “Familiarity breeds contempt, Don’t put me in the basement, When I want the penthouse of your heart” on ‘Bejeweled’, “But your eyes are flying saucers from another planet, Now I’m all for you like Janet, Can this be a real thing? Can it?” on ‘Snow On The Beach’, and “How’d we end up on the floor, anyway? you say, Your roommate’s cheap-ass screw-top rosé, that’s how” on ‘Maroon’. On this record she often seems to stumble clumsily over convoluted and ill-fitting sentences, almost like she’s struggling to hit a word limit, or leaning heavily on simple rhymes and heavy-handed cliched metaphors, or some combination thereof. Special mention has to go to “On the way home I wrote a poem, You say “What a mind”, This happens all the time” from ‘Sweet Nothing’ for sounding like an Elon Musk tweet, and “Sometimes, I feel like everybody is a sexy baby” for fulfilling the album’s entire cringe quota in a single line.
But where we find the record most lacking is in the arrangements and production. It’s just so dull. A bland, flat, featureless wasteland. Just a brown wash to cover the empty spaces rather than bothering to fill the areas of blank canvas with something worthwhile. The Billie Eilish-esque ‘Vigilante Shit’ at least tries something different and attempts to break out of the languid synthscape, but ultimately lacks the necessary edge and venom to pull it off. Considering Taylor’s last love affair with synths on 1989 resulted in some of her most engaging and enduring melodies, I really am quite baffled how this album turned out the way it did. Midnights is a loose concept album about those moments of late night introspection. I’m reminded of TwelveFour by The Paper Kites; a record that follows a very similar concept and also employs a synth-driven sound, and yet does so with so much more range, vibrancy, nuance and expansiveness than anything heard here.
Midnights is boring, plain and simple. That’s not to say it’s bad, in fact there’s not a single track here that I’d call outright bad. Even her most misguided of experiments and deepest depths of cringe, while not good, can at least be considered interesting. This is the most bland release in her catalogue, and unless you’re the kind of superfan that unravels every line for easter eggs like it’s esoteric lore in a FromSoftware game, then there’s not a lot worth hanging around here for. The fact that all this follows in the wake of Red (TV) and it’s 10 minute version of her opus ‘All Too Well’, and after the mature storytelling and elegant arrangements of folklore and evermore, feels like such a glaring downgrade. Fingers crossed the next era has more to offer.