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Taylor Swift ‘Midnights’ review: a gentle return to contemporary pop

The latest remarkable album in Swift’s current white-hot streak gently presents itself as a sort of greatest hits composed of songs you’ve never heard before

4.0 rating

By Mark Sutherland

Nothing good happens after midnight, or so the phrase goes.

And, emotionally, Taylor Swift might concede they have at least a partial point. Swift bills Midnights — the latest remarkable album in her current white-hot streak — as “a collection of music written in the middle of the night, a journey through terrors and sweet dreams”.

But musically? Midnights is where all the good stuff happens. Indeed, this album presents as a sort of greatest hits composed of songs you’ve never heard before, as Taylor revisits classic Swift moods from her various eras. After re-recording two of her landmark albums so far in her ‘Taylor’s Version’ mission to reclaim the rights to her early work, you could call this ‘Taylor’s Reversion’ as she deals with unfinished emotional business from 13 sleepless nights scattered throughout [her] life.”

So ‘You’re on Your Own, Kid’ seems to draw lyrical inspiration from the Fearless epoch as, stuck in a small town, Swift sets out to “Search the party / Of better bodies / Just to learn that my dreams aren’t rare.” And the words to ‘Karma’, the wellspring of a zillion fan theories before anyone had even heard it, come on like an immortal Reputation-esque burn as she simmers: “Trick me once / Trick me twice / Don’t you know that cash ain’t the only price?”

Musically, Midnights — her most kept-under-wraps album ever, with not a single note released before the full record dropped — gently relocates Swift back into the contemporary pop landscape after her last two albums of fully original material, Folklore and Evermore, proved beyond all doubt her ability to make indie records that are much cooler than anyone else’s.

So there’s no Aaron Dessner this time around, although Jack Antonoff remains on board, supplemented by everyone from Zoë Kravitz (co-writer of romantic opener ‘Lavender Haze’) to Lana Del Rey (co-writer and featured artist on the dreamy ‘Snow on the Beach’).

But if the sound is once again primarily electronic, Swift has retained the subtle, ageless edge to her songwriting that made the Folkmore era one for the ages. So ‘Midnights’ remains gloriously above the chart-chasing fray, carefully choosing the moments to go for the pop jugular. And when it does, it draws blood every time.

‘Vigilante Shit’ (this is by far Swift’s sweariest record, by the way) is an irresistible country retribution anthem in modern pop clothing as Swift wickedly declares: “Lately, I’ve been dressing for revenge.” ‘Anti-Hero’ is a beguiling  banger in the ‘Style’ mode. And ‘Bejeweled’ is Swift’s swaggiest showstopper since ‘The Man’ (from Lover, somehow both just three years and yet five albums ago). At least until ‘Mastermind’ closes the album by declaring her own “Machiavellian” genius.

She’s talking about how she manifested her perfect relationship (with actor Joe Alwyn, who pops up as a co-writer on ‘Sweet Nothing’ under his alias William Bowery), but really, she could be referring to this astounding run of creativity.

“Ask me why so many fade but I’m still here?” Swift demands on ‘Karma’. It’s a rhetorical question, but if you need an answer, you’ll find it here, on the sort of prime pop record no one else has the nerve, let alone the chops, to make anymore.

And the best thing? With Swift, you just know that, after these midnights, there are still even better things to come.