Key Tracks: “Out of the Woods” “Shake It Off”
Taylor Swift’s first full foray into pop music is a beautiful mess, an experimentation in something that’s never an experiment. For the most part, “1989” is standard-fare pop, behind equal parts music and vocals. Swift’s music really isn’t any different, it’s just more pop-based. It doesn’t always work, but it’s more than enjoyable enough to make up for it’s weaker moments.
“1989” plays like a typical pop album. It flows through songs upbeat and ballad, with fairly standard lyrics. Opener “Welcome to New York” is a little slow to open a pop album, but it’s got a strong synth beat and the lyrics about the country’s biggest city mark a snarky metaphorical change from small town country. The album is held up by strong synth rhythms throughout. “Style” is helped by a synth beat, as is the Imogen Heap-collaborative finale, “Clean.” And, massive smash “Shake It Off” has a pretty strong rhythm to it too.
Swift’s lyrics are pretty self-serving. She knows her audience, her lyrics pander most to pseudo-literary young women, the type of songs that are relatable to a girl in high school but have a poetic aura. If Swift’s lyrics didn’t win you over before, they probably won’t here. They’re not bad – just not for everyone. “Shake It Off” is one of her stronger songs, rallying against sexist portrayals of her relationships in the media. “Clean” marks an interesting simile between a break-up and curing addiction. But the strongest lyrical song is probably “Out of the Woods,” a track with music written by Jack Antonoff. It deals with relationships, as always, but it’s more subversive and just a little darker than listeners are used to.
What makes this album different is principle. It’s: “Hey, T Swift’s doing something kinda different,” and that works for it. Transpose these songs into a different singer’s catalog and half of them wouldn’t register any sort of response, but Swift is experimenting in conventionality. And what results is an imperfect record that feels like it wants to be imperfect. It’s cohesive and tight, and asks to be weighed as a whole instead of by individual track. It’s kind of a mess, but it succeeds because of it. It’s a fitful new direction for Swift to go in and it’s easy to forgive the mistakes.
-By Andrew McNally
Side note: This review took a while partially because I just don’t have time, but partially because I had the stream the album track by track via Tumblr. I get the marketing strategy of pulling it off Spotify but I don’t necessarily agree with it. It doesn’t sit well with fans.