By Caroline Palermo, Staff Writer
Taylor Swift should’ve asked us to meet her at 3 a.m. instead.
While Swift’s tenth studio album, Midnights, dropped at midnight last Friday, a mere three hours later Swift dropped the surprise deluxe version dubbed the 3am Edition. The seven tracks that joined the original 13 confirm that Swift still needs help choosing the best tracks to share.
Midnights is a solid addition to her discography but lacks the eccentricity of her other works.
Midnights sees Swift’s musical style leave the comfort of the Folklorian woods and head back to the outskirts of the city. Those familiar with Swift’s preference of synth-pop production will note that it’s back, bolder than ever and a bit reminiscent of her previous work on Reputation — and yes, Jack Antonoff is back as the main collaborator on the album. His fingerprints are all over the record, though maybe a bit too much.
When hearing Aaron Dessner’s contributions on the 3 a.m. edition, I was left mourning for the album we could have gotten. Dessner elevated the themes, writing and production of this record with ease where Antonoff only succeeded on a few. This record proves that Dessner challenges and pushes Swift as an artist. Unfortunately, he’s only on three tracks.
Midnights is a flashback reel, re-examining previous moments and relationships spread over the course of Swift’s career, making it her most vulnerable work yet. While her work has always been made personal through her autobiographical lyrics, this is the first time we see all of Swift. It’s a raw portrayal that fixates on her flaws, insecurities and own struggles with her mental health.
“Anti-Hero” depicts these worries and insecurities on the grandest scale with Swift quite literally declaring that she is the problem. “High Infidelity” explores Swift as a renegade in a previous failing relationship, while “You’re On Your Own, Kid” references her body image issues.
Swift is known for her talent as a songwriter, and her previous albums Folklore and Evermore still remain her most skillfully written albums. Midnights, on the other hand, lacks in that department.
Tracks like “Karma” made me briefly question if she left her lyrical talent in the woods of Folklore. It doesn’t matter how catchy the production is; nothing can save that track with lyrics like “Karma is my boyfriend / Karma is a god.”
Naturally, Swift’s best track on the album, “Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve” isn’t even on the standard edition and yet blows away nearly every other track on Midnights in comparison.
Otherwise, most of the tracks feel like a first or second draft that could have used more editing (I’m looking at you, Antonoff.)
Vocally, this is a fun album. Swift continues to let her emotions bleed through her vocal performance with a mixture of ache, amusement and exhaustion. Particularly with a concept like this, the vocal performance enhances the record to a higher level. She also continues to play around with her lower register that she started to explore in her previous album, but Swift also dips her toes back into vocoders known from Reputation.
Swift understands her voice is a storytelling device just as much as her lyrics are. Whether it’s the lowered, reverbed pitch of “Midnight Rain” or the breathy delivery in “Labyrinth,” Swift carries through exquisitely.
Conceptually, Midnights beautifully explores the late-night thoughts, dread and angst in a candid light. Swift isn’t afraid to try things out of her comfort zone, though she needs the right collaborators to execute her vision properly.
Unlike 1989 or Folklore, Midnights feels a bit lost in its own haze of what it could have been. With a little bit of refining, track swapping and a second set of eyes, Midnights could have lived up to its full potential. Neither remarkable nor terrible, Midnights is still an enjoyable listen but lacks the impact of a typical Swift album.
Total score: ★★★☆☆