Non-Metal Album Review of the Month

Taylor Swift – 1989

Larry’s been livin’ with the new romantics and took an in-depth look into the pop empress’s 2014 breakthrough album.

Change can be refreshing, but it can also leave a nasty taste in the mouth. We all need to accept that it’s a natural part of life and stop whining about the subsequent effects. And few changes have divided a people so harshly as Taylor Swift’s evolution from southern country girl to pop empress. I say ‘evolution’ because it wasn’t a sudden decision as some of the naysayers will have you believe. A quick delve into her 2012 effort, Red, will reveal that this was the pivotal fusion – where echoes of her past shone through songs like the banjo-pluckin‘ title-track, but her forward-thinking pop sensibilities were emerging in full-force on blockbuster hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble”. In October 2014, Swift confirmed the worst fears of the more pessimistic side of her fanbase by releasing 1989 (the year of her birth) – a bold and definite migration into the realm of pop music. Thankfully, this didn’t come at the expense of decent writing. The Pennsylvania-born singer/songwriter was smart enough to make her first foray into fully-fledged pop heavily ’80s influenced. And it’s on this foundation 1989 succeeds.

Opener “Welcome To New York” immediately makes a bold statement with its simplistic backbeat, sampled hand claps and lead synth (which could not sound more ’80s if it tried!). This is the new Taylor – better live with it. It’s on this very number where Swift pioneers her fondness for one-note melody lines – a trait which quickly becomes a staple of her songwriting. Because of this, most of the dynamic interest comes from texture, rather than melody. Layers and layers of lavish electronica get taken out and put back in underneath the lead vocals which subconsciously create interest while you’re distracted by the insanely catchy refrains. Tracks 3 and 4, “Style” and “Out Of The Woods”, make the most of this textural dynamism. Both songs crescendo to truly epic climaxes which reverberate with thick slices of spacey synthpop and Swift’s contrapuntal vocal patterns. Sure, I might miss the authentic instrumentation and road-trippin‘ atmosphere of Speak Now and the self-titled album, but the tracks mentioned above are some of the best in her catalogue.

Let’s not be too disparaging of T.S and the apparent shunning of her country roots. Hints of that bouncy country vibe occasionally spring up through the verses of “I Wish You Would” and “New Romantics” – but it’s these two songs that end up being the most ’80s sounding on the whole album, and almost convince me that Swift could pull off a pure disco record. So maybe the country really is all gone? Oh well, I’ll cry later when I’m done having a rave to this album. As is the case with most big-hitters in the mainstream music industry, the weakest links are those which became hit singles. “Bad Blood” is the worst offender. With its primitive beat and irritating tune, it’s more akin to a bully’s schoolyard chant than a pop song. The vibrant “Shake It Off”, too, manages to make me wince with its insanely cringeworthy spoken word section. But hey, at least it’s feelgood and full of energy – no matter how fake all the brass sounds appear to be.

1989 suffers from a case of bloated over-saturation. Depending on which version of the album you get, there’ll be between 13 and 19 tracks when, let’s be honest, 10 or 11 would’ve done. The occasional forgettable fodder like the repetitive “How You Get The Girl” get eclipsed by the more memorable anthems like “Welcome To New York” or “New Romantics” (which only gets better every time I hear it). I guess it would be difficult to make a more streamlined record when there’s this much material on offer. At least she structures the album well. In the latter half, when a listener’s attention could be waning, the beautifully delicate “This Love”, the creepy, almost hip-hop inspired “I Know Places” and the wistful ”Clean” keep things interesting. Lyrically, this is pretty much the same old whining about boys, breakups and media attention so just ignore the cringe-fests like ‘I can make the bad boys good for a weekend’ (ew) and enjoy the fullness of Taylor’s voice.

With this many cuts on a single disc, you can afford to pick and choose your favourites to make 1989 really work for you. Overall, it’s an enjoyable romp through the atmosphere of the 1980s from someone who didn’t actually live the decade, but retains a fondness for it. The result is like a jubilant carnival being viewed through a misty window. All the fun, pizzazz and vibrancy is there, but shrouded in an aura of emotion and echoes. It’s a shame she couldn’t retain this ethereal quality on Reputation… dear god, what happened there? Look what we made her do!


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