When Marketing Depts Rejoice! Taylor Swift + the Civil Wars Are “Safe & Sound”
You can see them, like Gollum in Lord of the Rings: rubbing their hands together, slobbering and muttering, enraptured by what they behold. After all, Taylor Swift is pop music’s golden girl; the Civil Wars are the reigning Americana integrity poster kids.
Unlikely bed-fellows, seemingly from universes that are galaxies apart. One indie to the point of seceding from the business and building their chart domination hand-over-hand, from the ground up. The other signed to a label called Big Machine, tubro-charged and willing to make momentum cower in her wake.
The Civil Wars, quiet, almost introverted musicteers, artists of a certain restraint. They evoke and conjure, create tension, tease out nuance and have a decidedly murky, almost vintage grown-up allure.
Taylor Swift is the bright and shiny songwriter Barbie. So cute, so happy that even when she’s sad, we know if we watch long enough, she’ll vent her spleen and a rainbow with a unicorn sliding down it will appear.
Joy Williams and John Paul White have a seriousness that’s almost impenetrable, like the somber elders in a sepia family portrait. They are out of time, out of sync – and cooler in their sangfroide thrownbackery than even Gillian Welch was when she emerged.
Taylor Swift is right now. Bold-faced beaus. High profile cosmetic campaigns, pretty dresses, all that hair. Coming of age right before our very eyes.
It shouldn’t work, but it does. “Safe & Sound,” from the next big vampire franchise mondo-budget movie series, is fragile, tentative, willing.
Opening with a slight bit of atmospherics, then a few notes on gut string guitar open the panoramic view of what…? That little girl breathiness of Swift’s has an ash tree texture to it: washed out, white and somehow lonely as it reaches for the sky.
When the Wars join in on the chorus, her tone brightens. There’s a sunniness that seeps in, a resolve that almost seems to have faith in itself. Bolstered by the ghostly voices behind her, their voices add a strength to Swift’s almost ethereal Kate Bush-ynesss.
There is an elegiac quality to “Safe & Sound,” something that feels funereal. Yet the song is about the notion of counting on, of being there, of believing in love that’s forever.
Love that’s forever… Love that lasts… Love you can believe in, that abides and sustains… Now that is Taylor Swift country! She knows the plains of believing in happily ever after, facing down evile, fighting the good fight for the fairy tale.
But suddenly, there is an olde English feeling to the spare folkiness, a drifting the plains under a full moon, rotted velvet curtains and a wolf howling under the midnight sky. This is fantasy; this is mythology.
In the matter of 4 minutes and 12 seconds, Taylor Swift drifts onto the edge of Stevie Nicks faerie prairie with room to breathe. The Civil Wars aren’t nearly so far afield, yet as acolytes of an otherworld for Swift, they serve as conduits to new vistas.
What happens from here, who knows? But as an audio bodice-ripper, all golden braid and surrender to the creatures of the night, this is the kind of delicious thing that fantasy floats on.