Artist: Taylor Swift
Reputation, Taylor Swift’s latest album is not her greatest. It ends with the lyrics ‘Hold on to the memories/ they will hold on to you.’ That, in a way, encapsulates why the album fails to be more than the sum of its very varied, uneven parts. After the spectacular reinventions of her previous album 1989, TS continues to veer further away from her singer-songwriter roots. As the novelty has worn off, our memories of her past brilliance undercut much of this mostly half-baked, derivative, electro-driven album. The production values and the hooks from some six collaborating producers are strong throughout the album, but the songs feel contrived: TS calculatedly attempts to be edgy and street. Her earnestness, which was once her most endearing quality, is now out of the window as she now seems to want to be a celebrity, a performer (atrocious dance performance on SNL), a diva, a Britney.
That is not to say that Reputation is a bad album; there are some good to great tracks here, but there are also several tracks you can imagine other singers singing more convincingly: ‘…Ready for It?’ (could have been better sung by Rihanna); A track like ‘Don’t Blame Me’ would be perfect for a blues belting mama, even a Christina Aguilera; Taylor on it sounds out of place, lacking soul or the vocal ability. The singles released from the album were relative failures with ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ (proclaiming the old Taylor to be dead) and ‘Gorgeous’ (certainly not that) and ‘End Game’ (better than the other two; featuring Ed Sheeran as a rapper, no less and ‘Future’) not making much impact beyond the visually arresting videos.
In fact, there are really only two standout songs on the album: One, ‘Delicate’ is catchy and currently on repeat. It is breezy, breathy and utterly compelling, an ear-worm. Second, the album ending track ‘New Year’s Day’ is possibly the best song here: an unrepresentatively sensitive track, a gorgeously spare piano ballad, the song is heartfelt and well-observed. One can only hope that it points towards a way back to songwriting of depth and sensitivity for Taylor. Among the almost great tracks, ‘Dress’ is the best (with a more appropriate for Tove Lo, inappropriate for TS lyric ‘I just brought this dress/ so you could take it off’). The song also shows off her shortcomings. She cannot convey menace or aggressive sexuality and that is something she attempts to do a lot on this album and song. She cannot to be sensual like a Rihanna or deep like a Tori Amos. One wonders why she wants to: For someone who in real life sued her stalker and won through courts, she now seems to want to spend way too much time objectifying herself, something that is surely beneath her.
There are moments in the album where one feels this is a put-on job, a calculated commercial, attention-grabbing move. The album feels like Taylor’s WWE album, with her acting the villain, and like wrestling, while the product is attention attracting, but deep down you know that it is not real.
So, manufactured is what most of this album is, by a committee of hired hands, when TS’s strength, for all her previous collaborations, was always intimacy and songwriting. 1989 lacked intimacy but had better songs. Here, there is technical excellence in the writing but not much heart; the production is pristine, but the songs feel crass, calculatedly commercial. Much of what is here also deals with excess lyrically and is excess: there are 15 tracks on the album, at least three more than the standard.
However, quantity does not make up for lack of quality. At least one third of the tracks could have been kept off (‘King of my heart’, etc.) and the album would have been better for it. Taylor may proclaim the old Taylor to be dead on the album, but one hopes she rises from the dead soon enough, else like all plastic dolls, Taylor too will soon be redundant or be replaced by Barbie-esque artists such as Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and others.