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Taylor Swift - Reputation (Album Review)

Monday, 20 November 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Mert & Marcus

“People can say whatever they want about me, but they can't make me lose my mind. I've learned how to shake things off.” Three years after Taylor Swift penned those words for the foreword of her blockbuster pop record ‘1989’, she’s made a mockery of them on ‘Reputation’, a comeback album that ranks as the worst of her career by some distance.

It’s been a turbulent few years. Relationships and break-ups have played out in public, while high-profile feuds boiled over and criticism for remaining apolitical during the US presidential election won by Donald Trump simmered. Regardless of whether these attacks were fair or foul, her time as a media darling is over.

Swift remained tight-lipped throughout but has clearly been plotting a combative comeback. Unfortunately, it appears she’s been too focused on sculpting a hardened new persona in a vain attempt to counteract the backlash. As such, the drop in songwriting quality on her sixth album is glaring.

With references to drugs, sex and even some – surely not – swearing, Swift strives to present an edgier image on a record where tropes from electropop, tropical house, dubstep, EDM  and trap have been employed to sculpt a full-blown contemporary pop aesthetic. Skilfully appropriating numerous styles is nothing new for her, but here the results are generic and clumsy.

End Game is a structurally messy collaboration with Future and Ed Sheeran, its perspective muddied by using three voices for what should be a duet. Utilising rap is also an eye-rolling grasp for credibility and this is one of many instances where Swift delivers her own lines with a pseudo-hip hop cadence, attempting to sell a reinvention that’s too calculated to convey its intended purpose.

Although boasting some powerful flourishes – see the menacing industrial throb of Are You Ready? – most tracks here feel like disparate ideas randomly stitched together. Crucially, most of their hooks are weaker than a toddler’s uppercut. The melody-free babbling of Look What You Made Me Do and forgettable choruses on So It Goes, King of My Heart and Dancing With Our Hands Tied are a shadow of the magnificent singalongs that peppered ‘1989’ and ‘Red’.

Killer hooks are usually the passionate heartbeat of Swift’s music, but only Don’t Blame Me, with its electro-gospel spirituality, and Getaway Car, the closest to a ‘1989’ track, match past triumphs. Bereft of such refrains, and in conjunction with this overproduced record’s poor stylistic choices and heavily synthetic soundscape, even the love songs feel sterile and boring.

New Year’s Day, the album’s only true classic, offers a telling contrast. Its low key ambience, organic piano and acoustic textures underscore the one moment where Swift’s emotional honesty and vulnerability shine through. It’s something that doesn’t happen nearly often enough.

Elsewhere, her ‘couldn’t-care-less’ bravado on I Did Something Bad doesn’t land because we know Swift’s a sensitive character who can be hurt by criticism. It’s therefore difficult to shake the feeling she’s hiding behind a bulletproof façade, which largely takes the sting out of ‘Reputation’. Such artificiality is most prevalent on This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, a childish take on that damning Kanye phone call that’s littered with contradictions. Swift wants out of this narrative, she says, but such a provocative number will only prolong it.

We don’t need to agree with a songwriter, but it’s imperative we believe them. Once hypocrisy, transparent posturing and falsehoods become too prevalent, it takes away our trust. That, as this record proves, is much more damaging to an artist’s reputation than what’s printed about them in gossip columns.

Taylor Swift Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue May 08 2018 - GLENDALE Arizona - University Of Phoenix Stadium (USA)
Sat May 12 2018 - SANTA CLARA California - Levi's Stadium (USA)
Sat May 19 2018 - PASADENA California - Rose Bowl (USA)
Tue May 22 2018 - SEATTLE Washington - CenturyLink Field (USA)
Fri May 25 2018 - DENVER Colorado - Sports Authority Field At Mile High (USA)
Sat June 02 2018 - CHICAGO Illinois - Soldier Field (USA)
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Tue July 10 2018 - LANDOVER Maryland - FedEx Field (USA)
Sat July 14 2018 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Lincoln Financial Field (USA)
Tue July 17 2018 - CLEVELAND Ohio - FirstEnergy Stadium - OH (USA)
Sat July 21 2018 - EAST RUTHERFORD New Jersey - MetLife Stadium (USA)
Sat July 28 2018 - FOXBOROUGH Massachusetts - Gillette Stadium (USA)
Sat August 04 2018 - TORONTO Ontario - Rogers Centre (Canada)
Tue August 07 2018 - PITTSBURGH Pennsylvania - Heinz Field (USA)
Sat August 11 2018 - ATLANTA Georgia - Mercedes-Benz Stadium (USA)
Tue August 14 2018 - TAMPA Florida - Raymond James Stadium (USA)
Sat August 18 2018 - MIAMI Florida - Hard Rock Stadium (USA)
Sat August 25 2018 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Nissan Stadium (USA)
Tue August 28 2018 - DETROIT Michigan - Ford Field (USA)
Sat September 01 2018 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - US Bank Stadium (USA)
Sat September 08 2018 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - Arrowhead Stadium (USA)
Sat September 15 2018 - INDIANAPOLIS Indiana - Lucas Oil Stadium (USA)
Tue September 18 2018 - ST LOUIS Missouri - Edward Jones Dome (USA)
Sat September 22 2018 - NEW ORLEANS Louisiana - Mercedes-Benz Superdome (USA)
Sat September 29 2018 - HOUSTON Texas - NRG Stadium (Formerly Reliant Stadium) (USA)
Sat October 06 2018 - ARLINGTON Texas - AT&T Stadium (formerly Dallas Cowboys Stadium) (USA)

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