Taylor Swift

Big Machine, 2014


REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


In my review of Taylor Swift’s last album, 2012’s Red – which found the starlet at a crossroads between pop and country, resulting in a halfhearted amalgamation of the two – I wrote that I hoped her next release would be “more cohesive but no less honest.” Well, Swift must be reading The Vault because her latest effort is (mostly) that. She’s shed her country roots for a full-on pop album, bringing back Max Martin and Shellback on production for an effort that’s far more stylized than her previous work but more mature as well. Where Red was a growing pains record, 1989 finds Swift asserting her artistic vision more confidently, rejuvenating the ‘80s pop landscape as well as her own persona as a serial ladykiller.

Indeed, one of the best songs to be found here upends Swift’s reputation for dating her way through Hollywood, toying prettily with the media’s perception of her: “ Got a long list of ex-lovers / They’ll tell you I’m insane / But I got a blank space, baby / And I’ll write your name,” she purrs on “Blank Space” over a minimalist electropop backdrop. Though this track has been wildly overplayed, it’s a welcome intro to the latest chapter in the evolution of Swift’s sound (and check out the equally spunky video). my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Meanwhile, lead single “Shake It Off” is simmering with a similar energy: “I go on too many dates / But I can’t make them stay / At least that’s what people say” is one of her many kiss-off lines to the media as horns and saxophone swirl around her. It’s a bit on the nose, as T. Swift always is, but it’s empowering to see her taking in the critics and brushing them off. Where much of her previous lyricism was wildly specific, creating a game of spot-the-famous-ex for fans, she’s gone broader on a lot of these tracks, trading in specificity for atmosphere.

And largely, it works. Skipping past opener “Welcome To New York” – which I do on every listen because it’s ridiculously, buoyantly cheesy – the rest of the disc draws you in with its shiny, well-produced, and endlessly listenable pop. There are the silky grooves and shimmering backbeats of “Style” (a not so sneaky ode to Harry Styles), chilly synths blended with a driving, almost anxiously repeated chorus on “Out Of The Woods” (co-written and produced by Jack Antanoff of Bleachers and Fun fame), and dreamy, breathless ambiance on “Wildest Dreams.” And despite the questionable origins of “Bad Blood,” which is allegedly meant to castigate Katy Perry with lines like “Did you think we’d be fine? Still got scars on my back from your knife,” it’s a remarkably catchy tune.

But where Swift shows real growth is on a track tucked near the end of the album, “Clean,” which she describes as being the last song written for the album. Downbeat and spare, featuring just her tender vocals swathed airy harmonies, the lyrics (written alongside Imogen Heap) liken the need to let go of a destructive love to addiction, ending with the line “I think I’m finally clean.” While Swift has spent her entire career considering love, what’s notable about 1989 is the inclusion of material that toys with and sometimes even moves beyond that preoccupation.

Overall, 1989 is inventive and enjoyable, full of seamless pop and the sense that Swift is growing and becoming more confident as an artist. She’s claimed the pop mantle and she wears it well.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2015 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Big Machine, and is used for informational purposes only.