Taylor Swift, Reputation | Album Review
After receiving a lukewarm reception towards the promo singles, Taylor Swift exceeds expectations on her sixth studio album, ‘Reputation.’
Sigh. Early on, Taylor Swift seemed to be setting herself up for a lackadaisical album. The promo campaign for her sixth studio album, Reputation, earned her another no. 1 hit, but things never felt like they were on ‘autopilot.’ In fact, after dropping four teaser tracks, there was more skepticism than certainty. After listening to Reputation, there was never a need to worry – it not only meets expectations, but exceeds them. There’s lots to like.
“…Ready for It?”
“…Ready for It?” kicks off Reputation with familiarity. It’s not familiar in the context of sounding like classic Taylor Swift (she’s dead), but listeners were acquainted with the bold, sleek-sounding single ahead of the album. This contrasts her 1989 opener “Welcome to New York” in numerous ways. It’s darker, set in a minor key, sleeker, and exhibits more attitude.
“End Game” is definitely a change of pace for Swift. Collaborating with pal Ed Sheeran is far-fetched, but bringing Future into the fold is shocking. Furthermore, the gimmickry is amped up to the nth degree, particularly at the onset. Once things settle in, and Future get his contributions out of the way, “End Game” sounds a bit more stable and respectable. Perhaps it’s a bit flimsy, but there’s hella charm and personality.
“I Did Something Bad”
Swift’s big personality continues to shine on another electrifying, minor-key joint, “I Did Something Bad.” One example of this personality is some ‘minor’ profanity from Ms. Swift.
“If a man talks shit, then I owe him nothing.”
As unapologetic as her own profane turn may be, she packs more of a punch throughout the course of the verses, not to mention the simple, but catchy chorus.
“They say I did something bad / Then why’s it feel so good? /… Most fun I ever had / And I’d do it over and over and over and over again / It just felt so good, good.”
It’s easy to let the superb production work of “Don’t Blame Me” steal the show. Shellback and Max Martin always soundly stitch up a track. Still, as great as the wobbling synths and robust sounds are, Swift has some terrific vocal moments. When discussing Swift, we rarely discuss her voice as much as her songwriting and ability to infuse personality into those songs. Here, she has some truly awesome, legit moments, which are aided by vocal production, but the vocal production doesn’t solely get the credit. The ad-libs, particularly the ‘high E’ she hits are a selling point. The backgrounds don’t hurt either.
“Look What You Made Me Do”
Speaking of vocal production, Swift opens “Delicate” laden with vocal effects. Beyond the vocals, “Delicate” itself is cooler than more bombastic numbers such as “…Ready for It?” or “I Did Something Bad.” It’s still effective and enjoyable. Polarizing no. 1 hit “Look What You Made Me Do” follows. Initially a bit of a head-scratcher, “Look What You Made Me Do” becomes a ‘grower,’ playing out better contextually within Reputation. Part of this is because the fan embraces the fact that Reputation is a big, modern pop album – a departure even from 1989.
Electro-infused urban-pop continues to be the script of the moody, somewhat mysterious “So It Goes…” Here, the vibe is arguably the biggest selling point. It continues the slickness of Reputation. The song itself doesn’t match the catchiness or the unapologetic nature of the crème de la crème, but continues exceed expectations set prior to the release of the album. “Gorgeous” follows, again giving a familiar tune to Reputation. It’s good – as slickly produced as everything else – but not groundbreaking. Still, like “Look What You Made Me Do,” it shines better contextually.
The 80’s sound alive and well on “Getaway Car,” which continues to reap the benefit of top-notch production (Jack Antonoff) and a catchy, robust chorus.
“You were drivin’ the getaway car / We were flyin’, but we never get far / Don’t pretend it’s such a mystery / Think about the place where you first met me…”
The key change is an unexpected surprise. The optimism of “Getaway Car” carries into “King of My Heart,” another major-key joint that doesn’t spoil Swift’s ‘reputation’ like some of the darker songs. The harmonized vocals and vocal production allure. “Dancing with Our Hands Tied” is another energetic, fun, well-rounded number. Perhaps it’s not necessarily a standout, but it’s certainly not far behind.
Swift gets sexy on “Dress,” asserting she “Only bought this dress so you could take it off / Take it off, o-o-off.” Has Taylor ever been so overt? Positively, she’s sexy without crossing any lines, which a number of pop artists feel they must do these days. Moving on from sex, we get the wordily-titled “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” among the most fun records of Reputation. The production is filled with swagger, as is Swift, who’s amps up the gimmickry.
“This is why we can’t have nice things, darling / Because you break them / I had to take them away / This is why we can’t have nice things, honey / Did you think I wouldn’t hear all the things you said about me? / This is why we can’t have nice things.”
Interestingly, teaser track “Call It What You Want” doesn’t arrive until near the end. Nonetheless, it adds familiarity and ranks among the better moments from the album. The cool vibes are, well, cool. “New Year’s Day” contrasts the majority of Reputation, with a more reflective, singer-songwriter sensibility. While it’s ‘pretty,’ it’s a bit of a bore.
Honestly, Reputation is a definite surprise. Leading up to the album, it seemed as if Taylor Swift had a potential underwhelming pop album on her hands, built upon clichés. While Reputation embraces some clichés, gimmicks, and the ‘bag of pop tricks,’ it ultimately comes over as a big, enjoyable pop album. Calling Reputation innovative is an overstatement, but giving it just due as a successful album isn’t.
Gems: “…Ready for It?”, “Don’t Blame Me,” “Look What You Made Me Do,” “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” & “Call It What You Want”
Taylor Swift • Reputation • Big Machine • Release: 11.10.17
Photo Credit: Big Machine