Taylor Swift has a new album coming out this week and I have mixed feelings on it. I haven’t liked any of the songs she has released so far. In fact, to me, they range from simply dull to downright offense. As such, I have yet to decide if I will actually be purchasing the album. I am a converted T. Swift fan from several years ago (in fact, I have a whole post just about that), and I’ve been fairly loyal since. I haven’t always agreed with her philosophical sentiments but I’ve been able to enjoy her music because it’s catchy and clever. From what has been released of the new album so far, I’m afraid to say it looks like those things are missing. Only once the album is out and I can hear it in all its glory will I be able to know if my suspicions are confirmed. In the meantime, I thought I’d do a couple of reviews of her earlier albums. I have one of Red from back when it was released, and in that I briefly review her previous three albums. I never got around to reviewing 1989 or reputation so I thought I’d get to that now. Here’s what I thought of 1989.
“Welcome to New York”
The opening track is a big, sweeping introduction to the album, and a love song of a different sort. Swift is singing about her adoration of a new city and the excitement that comes along with discovering all a new home town has to offer. There is a hopefulness infused into the lyrics and music that digs into your bones and makes you want to pump your fist to the beat. This is a solid opener, and a great way to start off her first pop album.
Taylor gets cheeky in this parody pop ditty aimed at poking fun at herself and the media’s coverage of her love life. Despite it being a parody, Swift still has the sense to pepper in some poetic lyrics. You get lines such as, “So it’s gonna be forever/Or it’s gonna go down in flames/You can tell me when it’s over/If the high was worth the pain” and “Cherry lips, crystal skies/I could show you incredible things/Stolen kisses, pretty lies.” Even though this is a takedown of her public image, there is still a romanticized view represented throughout. In using the very thing she has been criticized for (too much love and romantic imagery) to mock her critics, she ends up making what could have been a silly joke song so much deeper. Oh, and it’s catchy too.
This is the first sign that Swift may have made a misstep with this album. The opening section is weak both lyrically and musically, though the chorus is catchy. Unfortunately the chorus is the only solid section of the song as we return to the same lackluster emotion of the intro with the second verse. “Style” is not a terrible song, it just isn’t very inspiring or memorable.
“Out of the Woods”
Speaking of unmemorable songs, we have the next track on the album. Again, I don’t think this is a bad song per se, I just don’t think the music is very moving or noteworthy. The lyrics paint a nice picture of a budding romance, and the fragility of new love but the emotion doesn’t hit as hard as it should. There seems to be a disconnect between some of the music on this album and the lyrics, demonstrated perfectly in this track. This could be a result of Swift’s new tendency to collaborate with other musicians. Sometimes that work can turn out some amazing music but Swift has always had a very personal connection to her music and when you start adding other contributors you start to lose that personalization. I think “Out of the Woods” is a casualty of this trend.
“All You Had to Do Was Stay”
One of the most forgettable and disappointing tracks on the album, “All You Had to Do Was Stay” is simply put, bland. All of the personal details usually present in Swift’s songs are missing here, and the listener is left with a generic tune about a generic relationship. Perhaps it is meant to be broadly appealing but it falls flat. Swift is an expert at making her uniquely personal experiences connect with a wide audience. She does this by filling her songs with emotion, the kind you get when someone is telling you something deeply meaningful to them. This song loses all of that without gaining any of the benefits of a broad swung song because in addition to being impersonal, it also isn’t melodic or snappy.
“Shake It Off”
The first single off the album, and Swift’s announcement that this will be her entrance into full-on pop only music is actually a really fun song. A kissoff to her haters and critics, it is infectious and upbeat, and nearly impossible to resist bobbing along to. Yes, it is pure fluff but it is so dang catchy it doesn’t need to be poetic or insightful.
“I Wish You Would”
After a brief reprieve from mediocrity, we jump back into the bland pool with the seventh track on the album. Yet again, this isn’t an annoying or terrible song, though it’s repetitiveness can get a bit irksome. It runs into the same issue as “All You Had to Do Was Stay” in that it’s emotionless and insipid.
This is not a good song but it does have a catchy hook, which makes it an interesting addition to the album. Again, there is nothing personal about the song, the lyrics aren’t clever, and this time run along the lines of being clichéd. The difference here is that the music is dramatic and big, making up (slightly) for the poor lyrical quality of the song. The addition of the Kendrick Lamar rap on the video version does nothing to improve the song.
Finally we get back to what was working at the beginning of the album. Though short on details, the lyrics of the song describe a doomed-from-the-start romance. Swift keeps an airy vibe to the music, which adds a sense of whimsy to the described imagery. Everything about the song is like cotton candy. It’s sugary, yet light and wispy and not overwhelming. It’s easily digestible but doesn’t leave you feeling too sickly sweet.
“How You Get the Girl”
This song is dripping with a cloying singsong quality that just grates the nerves. It lacks any personality, choosing yet again to rely on generic lyrics with a middling melody. Upon my re-listen of the album I found I had completely forgotten about this song.
Sadly, I had not forgotten this song. Until recently this was my least favorite of Swift’s songs. I feel a bit like a broken record saying that it sounds bland, and lackluster, though it does. It feels as though she was aiming for a high note of emotionally charged moments with this but misses entirely. The lyrics aren’t clever and the music is monotone. Her voice barely wavers above the one level it starts at, making this perhaps the most boring-to-listen-to song on the album. What is most disappointing is that this is the only track Swift has sole credit on.
“I Know Places”
Swift gets clever with her metaphors here, painting herself and her romantic partner as foxes trying to outrun the hunters. Obviously being hounded by paparazzi is not something average people can relate to but she turns this trial into a story for the listener rather than a diary entry. The song is clever, with a good hook and pulsing beat, making it a bit of a break from the previous monotonous tracks.
With the final track on the album Swift brings together what she was desperately trying to do on “This Love.” This song is brimming with emotion, and Swift and Imogen Heap wonderfully pair haunting lyrics with wistfully hopeful music. This is one of those examples of her collaborating that results in something beautiful.
It is pretty easy to see why this track didn’t make the official cut for the album. It tries a little to hard to make the Alice in Wonderland theme stick and ends up feeling clunky and immature rather than smart and insightful. It does have a fun beat though, so the music saves it a little from being a complete dud.
“You Are in Love”
I’m beginning to think maybe I just don’t like ballads, except that “All Too Well” is my favorite Swift song of all time, and it happens to be a ballad. I think I just don’t like songs with no inflection musically or emotionally throughout, which is how I would categorize this one. It’s flat, and dreary despite being about a successfully growing relationship. It should be a happy time and the song is entirely joyless.
Perhaps the one bonus track that could have made the album’s final cut, “New Romantics” is a pop power anthem for millennial women everywhere. Here Swift showcases her ability to take her personal experiences and translate them into a song that appeals to women her age going through perhaps not the same things career wise but definitely the same emotional trials. It’s a way for her to show that despite the financial, and notoriety differences between her and her audience, she gets what it’s like to be 20 something in this day and age. See, she really is just like us.
Overall I would classify the album as mediocre. There are some pretty solid hits off of it, and despite not every song working, generally the lyric work is clever. It is definitely the weakest creatively of her work (so far) but there are some things worth the listen so I wouldn’t discredit it completely. Of her six albums to date, it is the one I return to least often for a refresher lsiten.