Taylor Swift

Reputation

Big Machine

Nov 13, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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"Baby, let the games begin," chants Taylor Swift on "...Ready For It?" a track of pummelling synths and undoubted ferocity.

It's an unsurprising start for a musician who has revelled in playful trickery in the lead-up to her sixth album's release. Jabs at the media, her ex-boyfriends, and allusions to long-standing feuds with Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian have fuelled the scandalous gossip which follows Swift. Though she wants us to know that she doesn't incite rumours herself, of course: "I swear I don't love the drama, it loves me," she sings on "End Game."

On the album's lead single "Look What You Made Me Do" (released back in August), the 10-time Grammy Award winner positioned herself alone, guns blazing, singing a tale of revenge over an EDM-powered pop track. But Reputation is a far more balanced album than its early singles may suggest. Swift has certainly turned her back on her country roots, as synths and electronic glistens pervade this album as they did its lead singles, but this new sonic landscape does not deny the album moments of tenderness.

Still underpinned by synth-pop beats, "Delicate" is almost a very human-very ordinary-tale of the highs and lows of falling for someone new. But Swift, obsessed as ever by how others perceive her, can only garner words to describe this potential new relationship in terms of herself: "My reputation's never been worse, so/You must like me for me."

Once she gets over her obsessions with image and tactics of feeding the rumours she claims to hate, her delicacy becomes affectionate. Piano ballad "New Year's Day" would feel at home on 2012's Red, or even as an outtake to 2014's 1989, its romantic lyrical mode typically Swiftian. She sings of clearing up after a party, the only guest left is the only one she really wanted to be with all along. There is a breathlessness to Swift's voice, as the raw romanticism of this song showcases the vocal and songwriting talents that got the Pennsylvanian-native noticed in the first place. 

One famous friend Swift doesn't seem to have fallen out with yet is British songwriter Ed Sheeran. Why Swift thought it necessary to invite him to sing on "End Game" is bewildering, as alongside verses from rapper and producer Future, Sheeran's attempt is cringe-inducing. It's hard to feel any sympathy for the potted history of his love life and how his "reputation" has always got in the way when Swift uses hers so powerfully as a bargaining tool across the rest of the record. Unlike Sheeran, Swift can work the rapping, and left in the hands of her and Future, the track would have struck with more ferocity. With Sheeran on board, the result is wet.

The highlights of this album come thick once the pre-release singles-and Sheeran-are left to one side. Gospel-inspired "Don't Blame Me" is warming, its singalong, confessional style intriguingly dark, with a wobble bass that resonates as a leftover from album highlight "I Did Something Bad." This eery track, filled with mock-pizzicato strings, reckons with the same brutishness of "Look What You Made Me Do," but swings with fun and youthful recklessness, not the revenge everyone is bored of hearing about by this point.

If Swift wanted to set herself up as a Bad Girl, she's failed. "King of My Heart" and "Dancing With Our Hands Tied" are examples of Swift's stellar pop writing, both pleasing in their near-jarring beats, but crucially underpinned by the singer's inability to stray far from romanticism for too long.

Reputation showcases a grown-up Swift, that's for certain. But she can't yet shake the fabled girl-next-door persona she has always written into her songs, no matter how hard she tries to play the Bad Girl. (www.taylorswift.com)

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