Album Review: 1989 – Taylor Swift

I’ve been listening to this one for over a month now, and I’m about ready to call it pretty damn awesome.

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Released:
 October 2014
Label:
Big Machine
Genre: Pop
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TRACK LISTING

1. Welcome to New York
2. Blank Space
3. Style
4. Out of the Woods
5. All You Had to Do Was Stay
6. Shake It Off
7. I Wish You Would
8. Bad Blood
9. Wildest Dreams
10. How You Get the Girl
11. This Love
12. I Know Places
13. Clean
14. Wonderland (Deluxe only)
15. You Are In Love (Deluxe only)
16. New Romantics (Deluxe only)

I used to be really, really apathetic about Taylor Swift. For a long time I, like many people around the world today, barely batted an eyelid at a new single or album release from the Nashville-raised countrified pop star. I’m not exactly sure when that opinion started to change, though I know it probably had a lot to do with her refreshingly down-to-earth, highly entertaining public interviews with Ellen DeGeneres. Then in late 2012, Red happened. An album that seemed impossible to avoid, Red represented a tangible departure from Swift’s country roots, pushing towards a more universally appealing sound. I let my curiosity get the better of me, bought it, and didn’t look back. Aside from its perhaps overindulgent length, the album was very hard to fault, and it was quickly deemed a modern classic by critics and fans alike. I kinda liked it too, so when the talented singer-songwriter announced an album with my birth year stamped on the front cover earlier this year, I was instantly hyped. The album promised a sound that borrowed liberally from late-1980s synth pop, and that it most certainly does. Yet 1989 still feels like a worthy successor to RedIt’s not as good, but it’s still a really enjoyable listen over and over again.

If Red was considered a departure from the purer country stylings of Swift’s earlier work, 1989 is in another category altogether. Said stylings are essentially no more. It’s pretty much all gone – the vocal twang, the hints of guitar even on the upbeat tracks, the deliberately rustic drums – but this is definitely a Taylor Swift album. Nearly three years of listening to K-Pop music has conditioned me to ignore what musicians are actually singing about, and yet 1989 is still lyrically striking, with layered metaphors everywhere and very little awkward word stretching. Plus, it’s often very catchy, which helps a lot with it being a pop album and all.

Welcome to New York is an opener full of intent, with a synthesised hook that immediately screams “80’s” and sets the tone for an electronic restructuring of what it means to be one of America’s favourite artists. The reverberating bassline is addictive as anything. Blank Space is either a parody of the socialite life or Swift’s nonchalant declaration of a reckless attitude towards her own love life. The last line of the chorus is a real kicker, and the harmonious bridge is glorious.

Style is the most difficult song on the album to enjoy lyrically, as it’s basically a straightforward boast of how good privileged life can be, but the rollicking electric guitar hook that anchors it sounds so good that it hardly matters. Out of the Woods is reminiscent of a Tears For Fears anthem, with a reverberating monotone chorus that just works so well and lyrics that are ambiguous in all the right ways. And it’s so 80’s. All You Had to Do Was Stay keeps returning to a high pitched, single-word motif that emanates angsty lyrics, which contrasts nicely with the already well circulated Shake It Off, Swift’s irrepressible message to the haters, even if the latter song doesn’t really fit all that well with the synthesised style of the rest of the record.

I Wish You Would is one of those songs that tells a very specific story with regards to time and place, and it’s all the better for it. The drums echo through the chorus with real purpose too, transitioning to the even more powerful percussion of Bad Bloodwhich is practically all drums and awesome vindictive anger. Wildest Dreams is essentially Swift’s best “Lana del Rey” impression, both stylistically and lyrically. It’s my least favourite song of the album personally, and the simplistic following track How You Get the Girl isn’t much better.

When the album slows down for the ethereal This Love, which mixes elements of early 1990s ballads with a synthesised audio staircase on the chorus, Swift steadies the album in fine fashion, and then things really kick up a notch with the excellent I Know Places, a dark and deliberate tune with a piano-and-vocal sample base that escalates strongly until it has transformed into almost another song entirely. 1989s closer, Cleancarries a very slight African flavour and packs some seriously memorable lines, moving purposefully through a rain-soaked metaphor about relationship endings.

Expecting lesser quality from the deluxe tracks on a Taylor Swift album is usually foolhardy, and the pattern holds true here. The aptly named Wonderland buzzes its way through several Alice-esque allegories in between instances of wonderfully booming “eh-eh” choruses, before Swift shows her appreciation for the likes of Foreigner and The Police with the stellar keyboard-heavy super ballad You Are In LoveTo close things out for real, Swift reminds her fans of what she’s all about with New Romanticsan upbeat, slightly vicious song for the youth of the 21st century to be sure.

Taylor Swift has delivered an imperfect album with 1989, but where it really matters, she has done it again, serving up a suite of catchy songs with thoughtful lyrics designed to be played many times over. And she’s done it without even once dipping her toes back into a country sound, meaning 1989 marks arguably the best entry point yet for previously Swift-averse newcomers looking to see what the fuss is about. Mighty talented, she is.

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THE VERDICT

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Strongest Tracks:
Welcome to New York, Out of the Woods, Bad Blood, I Know Places, Clean, You Are in Love
Weakest Tracks:
Wildest Dreams, How You Get the Girl
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515/110A M A Z I N G

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