Taylor Swift - Midnights review: Not a smash hit in sight

 (Beth Garrabrant)
(Beth Garrabrant)

As we should know by now, Taylor Swift doesn’t like to do what’s expected of her. Straight away on her return with her 10th album, she’s complaining about people asking why she hasn’t yet married her steady boyfriend Joe Alwyn: “The only kinda girl they see is a one-night or a wife,” she sings on Lavender Haze. Later, on Labyrinth, she’s thinking of an ex: “You know how much I hate that everybody just expects me to bounce back just like that.”

Nor has her recent career followed the standard superstar growth trajectory. After releasing not one but two understated lockdown albums with no warning – Folklore in July 2020 and Evermore that December – she set about undermining the ability of music executive Scooter Braun to profit from the sale of her master recordings by beginning the epic process of making new versions of all her early albums.

The surprise this time is not only that she’s paused her re-recording project to make something new, but that she’s prepared to disappoint anyone assuming that this will be a return to stadium-ready pop after two relatively low-key releases. The acoustic guitar is returned to the back of the wardrobe and electronic soundscapes are here again, with help from long-term collaborator Jack Antonoff, but it’s hard to spot anything that sounds like a smash hit on her third muted collection in a row.

The theme of Midnights is that these songs are all thoughts that arrive in her restless mind in the small hours. As a younger woman, on her song 22, she was kookily enjoying “breakfast at midnight”. At 32, while the clock’s making her another day older she’s tortured by old loves, enemies and her own failings. On Anti-Hero she imagines laughing at her descendents from hell after being murdered for her money. On Midnight Rain, over slow-motion beats and layers of digital drones, she laments that a past lover couldn’t change as fast as she did.

While the style is a change from Folklore and Evermore, Swift is never at the ball when the clock strikes 12. On the twinkly Bejeweled she announces that she’s “going out tonight”, but the beats remain sleepy and sluggish. Snow on the Beach will get a lot of attention due to the backing vocals of another superstar, Lana Del Rey, but both artists have voiced a dozen ballads that are more memorable.

The brighter Karma, presumably another dig at Braun, is the only song that feels like it could be a highlight when she eventually returns to the stage. Otherwise Midnights sounds ready for bed.