Taylor Swift, evermore

The companion album to this year's quarantine surprise Folklore, it improves, though not nearly enough, on the unsympathetic pontifications and the tortoise pace that made its precedessor tedious. But, to be sure, there are nevertheless improvements: leadoff "willow" is pop without being overly sweet, and while the production remains flawless, the throwback semi-country style is better developed this time (especially "champagne problems" and "cowboy like me"). I also appreciate her more mature consideration of the human existence (e.g., the nuanced "happiness" and the small-town slice "'tis the damn season") that does a better job lyrically in getting you to see the world through her eyes, though I gently argue some of us do need a little "closure." On the other hand, what didn't improve from its precedessor is the molasses feel like a tape on half speed, leaving you to wonder when the fun bits start, and too much of the track list is just too slow. Overall the album is still overly navel-gazey and there remain many irritating moments where her emotional state fails to translate musically, but while it may be a companion album in name, for my money it manages to eclipse the previous one even though that wasn't much of a bar to exceed. Despite not being enough for a third star, the iterative changes in this one do make it the relatively superior release, and you don't need to buy the prior album to appreciate the finer moments this one has. By the way, please invest in a SHIFT key. Thank you. (Content: some harsh language and adult themes. A separate clean version is available; I reviewed the original.)