Artist: Taylor Swift
Released: October 27, 2014
Die-hard fans were obviously thrilled when Taylor Swift announced her fifth studio album, 1989, but the announcement may have caught more casual listeners’ attention for another reason: this album would be a formal departure from the country pop style that catapulted Swift to fame and fortune. Instead, 1989 would be Swift’s first ‘official’ pop album and the difference is felt right from the first track. The album’s predecessor, Red, crossed genres as well but not in nearly the same way that 1989 does – from the get go, 1989 sounds like Taylor Swift hired pop music’s legion of producers while staying well within her own comfort zone vocally. The final product isn’t half bad; the tracks sound like something straight out of a Lady Gaga or Lorde album with some influence from the last decade’s hipster movement while the vocals are classic Swift but with a twist. The songs are still about the hearts she breaks and has had broken but instead of the teenybopper pettiness there is a somewhat more mature acknowledgement of the difficulty of managing relationships and the nuances of the connections between ex-lovers. Swift’s new style might take some getting used to and there are certainly tracks that are more ‘miss’ than ‘hit’ but on the whole, the album is an excellent showcase of Swift’s creative range and her impressive vocal talents.
The album has an interesting diversity to it, both musically and thematically. Where Red seemed filled with a youthful vengeance against her toxic ex-lovers, in 1989 Swift seems more reflective and conscious of her own mistakes in those failed relationships. It would seem that time has healed her chronically broken heart and on 1989 she is able to look back, nostalgically and often almost fondly, at those past flings and how they have changed her. It isn’t a particularly heavy theme but it is explored gently and yearningly on various tracks to paint a brittle but beautiful picture of good times past. The sentimentality of tracks like, ‘Wildest Dreams’ and ‘I Know Places’, is evened out by the defiant spunk and preppy energy of tracks like the massive heavy hitter, ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Shake It Off’ both of which make up part of the album’s other theme – acknowledging and moving past criticism. The album’s production has explores some new angles as well – the tracks’ sounds range from the minimalist melodies of tracks like ‘Blank Space’ and ‘Style’ to the more hip-hop, Ryan Lewis inspired ‘Welcome to New York’ and of course, ‘Shake It Off’. The production is the biggest differentiating factor between this album and Swift’s previous projects – the acoustic guitars and careful instrumentation from Swift’s early albums are barely in evidence, replaced instead by a much more commercial and, unfortunately common, sound with synthesizers and electronically enhanced backup vocals. It’s almost as though Swift’s production team aspired to make the most generic sounding pop album possible – most tracks on the album sound like they are borrowed from Swift’s companions on the Billboard Hot 100 list. This isn’t to say that the tracks are entirely without invention or that the quality of the production is diminished in any way as a result but rather something authentic has been lost in the production process, something that the album could have benefitted from keeping. Yet, what the production sometimes lacks in spark, Swift provides in plenty with catchy, hard hitting choruses that salvage songs even in the album’s weaker sections.
These weak sections aren’t so much a failing on the part of either Swift or her production team but rather an inability of either to provide anything above and beyond the bare minimum expected of a song on an album of this stature. Like many other albums, 1989 is tied together by its strongest tracks and holds strong despite the mediocrity of its weakest, yet there can be no denying that a sizable swathe of the album is rather ordinary. Swift’s legions of fans won’t care however, and there is certainly enough quality on the album for the less devout, yet some might finish the album with the feeling that it was a few noticeable marks short of a real classic.
|Welcome to New York||Tedder, Zancanella, Swift||4.5|
|Blank Space||Martin, Shellback||5.0|
|Out Of The Woods||Martin, Shellback||3.5|
|All You Had To Do Was Stay||Antonoff, Swift, Martin||2.5|
|Shake It Off||Martin, Shellback||3.5|
|I Wish You Would||Antonoff, Swift, Martin||3.0|
|Bad Blood||Martin, Shellback||2.5|
|Wildest Dreams||Martin, Shellback||5.0|
|How You Get The Girl||Martin, Shellback||3.5|
|This Love||Chapman, Swift||3.5|
|I Know Places||Tedder, Zancanella, Swift||4.0|
|You Are In Love||Antonoff, Swift, Martin||3.0|
|New Romantics||Martin, Shellback||5.0|