Album Review: Taylor Swift reputation

As mentioned in my review of 1989, Taylor Swift has a new album coming out this week. Back in 2017 I eagerly anticipated the release of reputation, pre-ordering multiple copies, and getting all excited for the news of her tour. This time around I find myself more disinterested in all the hubbub of the album’s release. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still listen to it, and I may even buy it. I’m just not excited by the thought of it. To try and get myself pumped for new Taylor music, I decided super last minute to review her last two albums. I already have a review of Red (and sort of her earlier albums), and now that the 1989 review is up, it’s time to take a look at reputation.

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“…Ready for It?”
Taylor Swift definitely knows how to pick an opening track that boldly sets the tone for the rest of the album. This is a darker, heavier start than any of her previous albums. With this she is loudly declaring the introduction of “New Taylor.” It’s in your face but then the bridge hits and there is an echo of “Old Taylor,” soft and hopeful. I would like this song if only for the brilliance of such a line as “And he can be my jailer, Burton to this Taylor” but I actually think it is a good, solid start for the album. It can be a bit heavy on the electronic new wave sound but it has a pounding beat that works.

“End Game”
Ugh, such a strong start to the album and then it’s followed by this. When I mentioned in my 1989 review that “This Love” is my least favorite of her songs, that was because I had forgotten about this one. It has all the issues of the problematic 1989 tracks (lack of personality, uninteresting music, and generic lyrics), plus Ed Sheeran rapping. Every time I listen to the album I skip this one.

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“I Did Something Bad”
The first song in which Swift curses is a fun, self-indulgent romp. Swift excuses her “bad” behavior due to the “bad” behavior of her exes, claiming if she did something worth criticizing it’s only because the guys she was with did something wrong as well. If “…Ready for It?” was the intro to Swift’s new sound, this is an introduction to her new attitude of not giving a fuck. She’s going to do what she wants because it feels good, and in the process she might just create an unrestrained pulsing song about her exploits.

“Don’t Blame Me”
There is a a gospel quality to this, as though Swift is both praying for and confessing her sin of loving someone too strongly. Mixing in the love as a drug metaphor brings a heady, lazy feel to it that makes you want to lean back and let the music wash over you. The break from this haze comes when Swift sings, “If you walk away/I’d beg you on my knees to stay,” underlining the desperation of an addict about to lose their vice. The music and lyrics are paired perfectly, making this a solid addition the album.

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“Delicate”
All the bluster of the previous songs is stripped away here, and a softer, more timid version of Swift is revealed. She’s unsure of herself in this new relationship, and is constantly seeking reassurance and second guessing herself. It’s a quieter song after a series of loud, confident ones. The line “Echoes of your footsteps on the stairs” demonstrates this beautifully, as though she’s whispering for him to come back but she’s afraid of seeming too attached too soon, so she lets him walk away. This is a light, sweet song that feels like Swift pushing aside the curtain of her new persona to reveal to the listener that there’s still some semblance of her old self tucked away, just waiting for the right person to come along and breathe life back into her.

“Look What You Made Me Do”
Of course Swift can’t let us get too comfortable with the remnants of her past self. That’s not what this album is about, so she immediately follows the softer song with this, her first single off the album. A lot of people don’t like this song. I am not one of those people. I loved this from the first time I heard it. I thought it was sarcastic, over-the-top, and a full on spectacle. It’s not as catchy as some of her other singles but it has a persistent beat that works its way into your brain, and some of the lyrics are actually pretty clever.

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“So It Goes…”
The first fairly forgettable track on an otherwise, so far, solid album (minus “End Game”). There’s a sense of nonchalance to this song that unfortunately doesn’t achieve what it intends. Rather than feel like a carefree expression of longing and desire, the song itself feels like an aloof and indifferent cast off, forgotten seconds after it’s finished.

“Gorgeous”
This song walks a fine line between being cutesy, and annoying. Sometimes I find the drawn out singing of the title word in the chorus catchy and fun. Other times it feels too tongue-in-cheek. I’m also not quite sure how to feel about Swift’s not so subtle admission to being open to the idea of cheating (“And I got a boyfriend, he’s older than us/He’s in the club doing, I don’t know what”). Technically she hasn’t acted on that desire but she’s definitely flirting with it. On the one hand, at least she’s openly embracing that “bad girl” persona she has been pushing so hard. On the other, I’m not a fan of cheating in any sense, and don’t really like it in the media I consume. It seems odd too that she would have had a song explicitly admonishing someone doing the exact same thing (“Girl at Home”) just a few years ago, and now that she’s the one flirting it’s not such a bad thing. Oh, and the toddler recording of the title word at the beginning? That’s always annoying.

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“Getaway Car”
The best part of “Gorgeous” is that it ends and then we get “Getaway Car,” which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Swift gets back to her storytelling roots here, only this time it isn’t a romantic tale of star-crossed love made right, it’s a cautionary tale of rebound love deception with vivid imagery. Throw in some bank heist metaphors and you’ve got a pulsating whirlwind of a song.

“King of My Heart”
Sadly after the surging energy of the previous track, we hit a downhill trend on the next few, both in terms of vitality and artistry. There is nothing inherently wrong with the song, it just isn’t very interesting or innovative. The sentiment is rather sweet but it’s lost in the lackluster melody of the music. Much like track seven, “King of My Heart” is an unimpressive addition to the reputation lineup.

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“Dancing with Our Hands Tied”
Continuing along the lines of the previous track, this one feels bland. I actually like the lyrics quite a bit. The comparison of the relationship to a couple dancing while restrained, as the world breaks into chaos around them is quite poetic. The music on the other hand feels uninspired and trite.

“Dress”
With this song, of course, a lot of focus has been on the fact that Taylor Swift is openly singing about sex, tossing aside her good girl, aw-shucks image in favor of a more mature one. However, I think it’s worth noting that Swift hides some incredibly romantic moments in what is her most sexual song to date. “Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me … Even in my worst light, you saw the truth of me.” Yes, this relationship is an “adult” one but it also is one that involves a lot of trust and openness. The song manages to be sensual and sincere at the same time.

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“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
In true Swift fashion, she can’t let things sit in a particular moment too long. She follows up “Dress” with what is my favorite song off the album, and a complete sass fest. Turning an internet meme into an upbeat catchy tune is almost as brilliant as using a piece of “I’m Too Sexy” in the first single. This song is completely full of itself in the best way. It’s this album’s “Blank Space,” a parody takedown of something, or someone Swift has a beef with, and I love it.

“Call It What You Want”
If the previous song echoed one of her hits from 1989, this one echoes the closer from Red, “Begin Again.” The music is light, and the lyrics sweet without being saccharine as she describes the fresh start of a new relationship and the subject who doesn’t want to “save” her but will “run away” with her as she licks her wounds. It’s a nice way to segue into the slower finisher.

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“New Year’s Day”
As with the previous two tracks, the album’s closer is very much in the vein of one of her older songs, in this case the fan favorite “All Too Well” from Red. She uses the New Year’s holiday to paint a picture of the mundane tasks of the day after, and uses that to profess her devotion. Yes she wants to share the glamour and glitz of the party with her partner but more than that she wants to share in everyday routines with him. It’s a beautiful confession of love, and the song is a great tribute to that idea.

As much as Swift has changed as an artist over the years, her core strength lies in being able to turn her personal experiences into shared ones for her fans. Reputation doesn’t always succeed in achieving this but it is an interesting experiment that stretched her musical muscles. Overall I enjoyed it. There are a handful of songs I’m not fond of but there are more that I consistently replay, placing it slightly above 1989 in my book.

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Album Review: Taylor Swift 1989

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.

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“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.

“Blank Space”
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.

“Style”
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.

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“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.

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“Bad Blood”
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 clich├ęd. 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.

“Wildest Dreams”
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.

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“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.

“This Love”
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.

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“Clean”
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.

 

BONUS TRACKS

“Wonderland”
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.

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“New Romantics”
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.