Saturday, November 11, 2017

CD Review - 'Reputation' by Taylor Swift (2017)

The year's most anticipated album just dropped, but does Tay Tay's latest live up to all of the heavily hyped hullabaloo? 

By: Jimbo X

A couple of months back I got an email from some broad that works for some shitty clickbait website nobody's ever heard of before asking for an interview about this Taylor Swift article I wrote. What she didn't know that I knew because I have a good eye for analytics is that she found out about the article by literally typing "Taylor Swift" in the Gab.Ai search box and clicking on the first link she encountered. The evidence of this is apparent in the screen shot below:

So naturally, I get a whole bunch of questions about why the alt-right thinks Taylor Swift is a Nazi and I responded by telling her ... well, you know what, I'm just going to publish our entire Internet communique for you, because it's that guldarn entertaining:

And if you can't read that, tough titties. I'm sure if you hit the zoom button up top enough you'll be able to, or even better, you can read this thing on an iPad and just stretch the thing out and read it in one fell swoop. The point is, there's a lot of people out there who have convinced themselves that Taylor Swift is some sort of undercover Republican and they'll do anything to smear her good name in the public eye.

I've already written about this once before. Long story short, a whole buncha' pissy liberal women are irked at Taylor for being a.) white, b.) prettier than them and c.) one of the few - if only - mainstream musical acts that ISN'T caught up in a vortex of endless virtue signalling on behalf of Democratic policy points. And since modern liberals are devoid of a sense of humor or the ability to pick up on even the slightest twinges of irony or sarcasm, when they hear people like Andrew Anglin celebrating Taylor Swift as some sort of subterfuge neo-Nazi princess, they think it's 100 percent legit

Let me tell you knuckleheads something. When alt-right trolls keep posting macros of Taylor Swift with Hitler quotes, what they're doing is satire. They're co-opting the most popular mainstream act of the day and branding their own message to her for the LOLZ. But somehow, a whole slew of dimwitted, inherently prejudiced people out there have made the cockamamie fantasy in their head pseudo-realityJust take a look at this meandering screed from a shitty website made by trust fund communists that accuses Tay Tay of being an "anti-Marxist" and a proponent of eugenics and a Hitler wannabe just because in her newest video she stands in front of a podium in front of a large crowd - which, as we all know, is something ONLY white supremacists have done throughout human history. So asinine that character assassination attempt that Swift sent her lawyers after the website - which, naturally, drew the ire of the ACLU and even more demands from unemployed liberal arts grads that she publicly denounce white supremacy in all its forms.

Maybe it's never dawned on all of these dunderheads that maybe, the REASON Taylor Swift is so popular in the first place is because she's APOLITICAL. Her songs about falling in love and moving on after a relationship and getting into catfights with manipulative friends is something that resonates across the political spectrum, and get this - maybe Taylor's core audience of 14- and 15 year-old girls DON'T give a flying fuck about abortion or equal pay or "the patriarchy" or any of that other shit the mainstream media keeps shoving down their throats day in, day out, and since Tay-Tay is pretty much the only major act in show business that isn't using their stage as a political pulpit every night, perhaps that endears her even more to the masses? You see, that's something I could never figure out about liberals; for people who absolutely loathe religious types (as long as they're Christian, anyway) pushing their beliefs on others, they don't see a shred of hypocrisy in the fact they're actively shoving their beliefs on everybody else at every available opportunity - and in fact DEMAND even more dogmatic devotion to their convictions than even the most annoying-ass Jehovah's Witness.

But - asides. What we're really here to talk about today is, of course, the release of Tay Tay's new album Reputation, which already has four fuckin' singles released before the CD even hit store shelves. Now, before we get into this latest release, lemme talk about me and Taylor real quick. 

Back when she was doing that country shit, I didn't give a fuck. It wasn't until "Trouble" dropped that I started to take note of her work, and the inescapable wave of 1989 single after single pretty much turned me into a "Swifty" by default. Let's be objective for just a minute: with no less than seven singles from the album, 1989 is unquestionably one of the greatest pop albums in history. And all of the tracks are diverse - "Bad Blood" sounds totally different from "Wildest Dreams," "Shake it Off" sounds nothing like "Out of the Woods," and "Welcome to New York" doesn't even sound like the same artist who made "Style." Give it about 20 or 30 years, but we WILL look back on 1989 as being a watershed, pop cultural masterpiece on par with Tapestry and Purple Rain someday. And while her music is unquestionably overproduced, fuck, what isn't nowadays? Besides, unlike most of those hit songbirds out there today, Taylor not only writes her own music but plays her own instruments. At last check, Taylor can play the guitar, the piano, the banjo and the ukelele, which is about four times as many instruments that Beyonce and Rihanna can play, as far as I'm aware. For all the shit Swift receives, nobody wants to give her credit for being a hell of a musician, and more than anything - including her much derided "Aryan good looks" - is what I reckon has driven (and continues to drive) her popularity.

Alright, time to finally focus on Reputation. From the cover alone you know the mood is about to change. Tay-tay's abandoned her trademark tomato soup red lips for some dark and dangerous black lipstick, with the album title itself inked in a font that wouldn't be out of place on the latest Obituary or Gorgoroth release. Of course, the music itself is still light and frothy bubblegum electro-pop, but this time around we just know it's going to be a darker - and more cynical? - variety of light and frothy bubblegum electro-pop. So how about we pop this sumbitch in our CD player and give the album a fine track-by-track combing, why don't we?

Well, if she didn't have a red lipstick fetish before ...

Track 1
"Ready For It?"

Surely you've heard this one a time or two before. This is one of those songs that's a feature-length double entendre. Except it's in reverse. Canonically, she's explicitly singing about having sexual fantasies, maybe even the female equivalent of a wet dream thinking about some dude she desperately wants to bone, but it also doubles as a metaphor for the singer's quasi-radical thematic and genre shifts to follow on the album. Also, as you will soon see, about half the songs on this album are positively A-plus aural material to bump uglies to, so it's nice we have that motif established from the get-go here.

Track 2
"End Game"

"I want to be your A-Team, I want to be your end game, end game," Taylor begins this heavily hip-hop flavored track that features rapper Future and Ed Sheeran, because apparently, he's still trying to hit it. And yes, Sheeran does try to rap on the track, and it's goddamn hilarious. It's pretty much a thematic and compositional carryover from the opening track, with Tay Tay lamenting her negative media image and by the third stanza she's spitting rhymes herself and it's not that bad, surprisingly. Hell, she does that white girl trying to be black shtick better than Halsey, that's for sure. It's another cryptic "eff you" to whichever ex-boyfriend who screwed her over last with plenty of in-jokes about her "red lips," but on the whole, it's probably one of the weaker songs on Reputation. Not that it's filler or anything like that, just a track that's too similar to other - and better - tracks on the album.

Track 3
"I Did Something Bad"

Oh hell, Taylor Swift CURSES on this track! "Crimson red paint on my lips, if a man talks shit then I owe him nothing." I'm pretty sure this whole thing is a great big "fuck you" to Calvin Harris, as apparent by lyrics like "he says 'don't throw away a good thing,' but if he drops my name, then I owe him nothing, and if he spends my change, the he had it coming." You know, because she wrote that one Rihanna song for him and everything? Other publications say the song also gives the business to Tom Hiddleston and the Kardashians and yeah, they're probably right. As far as diss tracks go, it's pretty solid - I mean, it ain't "No Vaseline," but it's fairly decent musical revenge nonetheless.

Track 4
"Don't Blame Me"

"My drug is my baby, I'll be using him for the rest of my life," Tay Tay sulks in this downbeat, dare I say industrial sounding anti-ballad interspersed with brief piano interludes. After three fairly energetic tracks, this is the first truly dour, depressed-sounding song on the album and it's definitely successful at setting a pissy, pessimistic attitudinal shift. Also, this song has one of my all-time favorite Taylor one-liners ever - "I once was poison ivy, but now I'm your daisy." An aside, I know, but why not cast Tay Tay as P.I. in the upcoming Gotham City Sirens movie? I mean, judging from a couple of her red carpet ensembles, she DEFINITELY looks the part.

Track 5

AUTOTUNE, YOU MOTHER FUCKERS. This one is a slower, quieter, and even more downbeat song than the last track. "Dark jeans and your Nikes look at you, oh damn, never seen that color blue," she remarks around the halfway point of the track. I have no idea who that's referencing, but if you're a hardcore enough Swifty you can probably figure it out. I'd compare the track to "Wildest Dreams," except a little more morose and reserved. And yes, this song is Taylor-made (har-har) for some bedtime sojourning, if you catch my drift. And by that I mean this is a good song to fuck to. Just as long as it's consensual.

Track 6
"Look What You Made Me Do"

I've already dissected this one a while back, so I ain't going to retrudge the same old ground here. All in all this is a TREMENDOUS song, probably one of the best pure pop releases of the 2010s. Yes, it's overproduced as fuck but it's still insanely catchy and one of the few modern day radio staples that doesn't get stale after ten hearings. And I STILL say Taylor didn't "borrow" the chorus from Right Said Fred - anybody with a working set of cochleas KNOWS this song's trademark refrain is indeed swiped from 2 Live Crew's immortal "Me So Horny."

Track 7
"So It Goes ..."

This one has a long, winding intro just like "Wildest Dreams" and it's definitely one of the better tracks on the album. Here, she recounts meeting some random dude and having instant guilt over her attraction to him. "You know I'm not a bad girl, but I do bad things with you," she laments, displaying an almost Catholic sense of sexual moral culpability. There's even some semi Fifty Shades shit going on towards the end, where she starts talking about wearing black and clawing her metaphorical lover's back (fuck, I can't wait to see that video!) The chorus is especially well structured, with even more lyrics about her lipstick (for which Tay Tay ruminates over the same way Sir Mix-A-Lot ruminates over large asses.) Shit, why this girl hasn't garnered a Kylie Jenner-like cosmetics contract by now, I just can't figure out

Track 8

Now this track is just '80s as fuck and I love it. Somewhere between bubblegum pop and synth-laden power pop lies this track, which features perhaps Taylor's best overall vocal performance on the whole album. It's kinda like Pat Benatar singing a Matthew Sweet penned love song, or Paramore trying to wheel their way through a Raspberries track. It's probably the most 1989-like song on the CD, but that's far from being a negative. Hey - more of the same is never a bad thing when that "same" is already pretty fuckin' ace, is it?

Oh, what I wouldn't give to be her co-star in Nekromantik 3 ...

Track 9
"Getaway Car"

We have got to find a name for that really downbeat, wobbly, lite synth beat that underlies virtually every song on this album. Uh, Swiftwave, maybe? Anyhoo, this is another of those "doomed romance" odes, as evident by the oh so blunt title. "We were jet-set Bonnie and Clyde, oh oh, until I switched to the other side," she remarks, "it's no surprise I turned you in, oh oh, 'cause us traitors never win." It kinda' reminds me of "Into the Woods," but a little bit lighter and just slightly frothier. An alright song, I guess, but it's nothing transcendent or anything like that.

Track 10
"King of My Heart"

Fuck, I am loving that synth that's driving most of the tracks on this album. Well, if you're looking for vocal dynamism, this song offers a pretty good mixture of hushed singing, quick spurt shouts, deadpan dips and waves, quasi-serious white girl rap and - yep, you guessed it - an auto-tune assisted chorus. With lyrics like "so prove to me I'm your American queen and you move to me like I'm a Motown beat" and "up on the roof with a school girl crush, drinking beer out of plastic cups," it almost sounds like a Lorde track - if Lorde was a robot. By now, I think a bad break-up can be chalked up as the core theme of the album, not Taylor's one-woman war against the media (which, I believe is what most people were expecting, if not outright wanting.) Needless to say - there's going to be a lot of fat girls crying over this album in the near future, for a multitude of reasons.

Track 11
"Dancing With Our Hands Tied"

This is the best song Lana Del Rey could never make. It's fast, but downbeat, frenzied but whispy, anxious but emotionally subdued, and sentimental but not exactly optimistic. It almost reminds me of a combination of The Veronica's "Untouched" and "Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" - two really unlikely tastes that apparently taste way better together than expected. Take out the electronic snare drums over the chorus and some of the autotune and this song wouldn't sound out of place on the soundtrack of a 1980s John Hughes movie. That, and it has some of the best lyrics on the whole album. "I'm a mess, but I'm the mess that you wanted," Tay Tay croons, "oh, 'cause it's gravity keeping you with me." Hey, isn't "Gravity" also the name of a John Mayer song? I mean, not that the two are related or anything like that, assuredly ...

Track 12

I can already tell you this is Taylor's 25 - a more low-key, more depressed (or is that simply less emotional?) paean to the pains of growing up and growing past failed relationships. "I don't want you like a best friend," she lilts, "Only bought this dress so you take it off, take it off, carve your name into my bedpost." And there's even these two parts where she kinda sorta pantomimes having an orgasm, and it WILL give you a chubby wubby. Another nice, breathy song for you and your other of significant other to have melancholic sex to, which, I am sure we can all agree, is the absolute best kind of sex any of us will ever have.

Track 13
"This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things"

The track starts off with air raid sirens, which has to be a first for a Tay Tay song. And yes, I know the title is an allusion to The Simpsons, but Taylor never really struck me as much of a Simpsons fan, but she did write the song (and every other song on the album, for that matter) so who knows. This track is pretty much the bookend to "Look What You Made Me Do," complete with Taylor breaking the fourth wall and bursting out laughing while phoning in a syrupy non-apology to whoever pissed her off so much (Kanye, I'm looking at your crazy ass.)  After a deluge of downbeat pseudo-ballads, this almost antagonistically playful, semi-cryptic "diss" track is a welcome change of pace; and oddly enough, the chorus sounds a lot like the part in Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" at the end where she's saying like 20 lines of lyrics really fast, which is something I don't reckon any of us expected. 

Track 14
"Call It What You Want"

Another downbeat song that kinda' combines the album's two most prominent themes - redemption from bad romances and bad blood with other celebrities - into a singularity. "All the flowers grew back as thorns," she says, "but he built a fire just to keep me warm." So, uh, who is she talking about here? That Joe Alwyn guy? Regardless, this is one of the simpler songs on that album, with a beat that remains relatively staid throughout. And it's a great bridge to the album's concluding track, which is probably one of the most haunting CD enders since "Butterfly" on Weezer's Pinkerton. Hey, speaking of which ...

Track 15
"New Year's Day"

And we wrap up the album with a stripped-down, scaled-back, piano-driven ballad. I hesitate to call it Tay-Tay's "Piano Man," since it's a.) nowhere near as grandiloquently verbose and b.) nowhere near as needlessly overlong, but I guess they are compositionally (and thematically, I suppose) similar. In a career littered with syrupy and schmaltzy love songs, this might be Swift's most bittersweet to date. "I want your midnights," she lilts, " but I'll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year's Day." It's a song about longing, I take it, but it's a more adult kind of longing she's talking about here - not that hyper-dramatic teenager shit we're used to hearing from her and her contemporaries. The singer is sad about the circumstances of her relationship, but it's even sadder because she's realized and accepted there's nothing she can do about it and just has to live with it because, well, that's life, and just like New Year's Day itself, life goes on regardless. On an album produced to the moon and back, I really couldn't think of a better way to close the record - one girl, one piano and one mature broken heart, turning in a testament to disappointment and taking it on the chin like a real woman. This, my friends, is the "new" Taylor she's been going on and on about for months now; a singer-songwriter with legitimate musical chops who's more James Taylor than Beyonce. And just like a great movie that leaves the door wide open for a sequel, this is the perfect way to segue to her next album, and her next reinvented self. And, I for one, am on the edge of my seat seeing where that leads us.

Don't worry, Tay Tay. Your album is WAY better than Katy Perry's latest.

Alright, time to sum it all up. On the first listen I can't declare it an objectively better album than 1989, which I thought had better songs overall and greater aural diversity. A lot of the tracks on this album seem to be trudging the same territory over and over again and to be frank, a lot of times the beats on the tracks feel like they are practically interchangeable. Another - well, maybe not a problem, per se, but an oddity, I guess - is how the overall flow of the CD dips and raises from track to track. Like, you'll have three or four kinda' downbeat songs in a row and then one really energetic, tongue-in-cheek one and it really muddles with the emotional flow of the album. Maybe it would've been better if Taylor front loaded the album with the more upbeat stuff and then hit us with about seven or eight sadder, slower songs in a row, but eh - I guess songs like this are supposed to be taken a'la carte, so I reckon that isn't too likely to bug anybody else.

As far as the thematic content, it's pretty much a two-trick pony; you've got the songs lamenting Taylor's impressively long streak of doomed romances (whose tones range from slightly bubbly and effervescent to downright maudlin) and tracks in which Taylor gives her detractors what-fer. That double-fisted approach doesn't exactly produce the smoothest synthesis, though, and you kinda have to wonder if the overall album would've been better had she stuck to just one of those overarching thematics (or maybe even split them into a double album.) That said, with the final four songs on Reputation you do get something of a thematic merger and conclusion with the lovelorn "Dress" melding into the payback's a bitch, motherfuckerness of "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" to the optimistic recovery of "Call It What You Want" to the half happy, half devastated self-prediction of "New Year's Day." So yeah, like any other album, it's going to take a couple of listen-throughs before you can give it a fair assessment, but on that preliminary hearing, I'd say it's a MINOR step down from 1989. So if her last album was Purple Rain, this is probably going to be remembered as Taylor's Around the World in a Day. Which, considering the structure and thematic similarities of the two, might just be the single greatest comparison I've never really intended to make, so, uh, go me, I guess?

Still, Reputation is some good shit, and I'd feel confident giving it something like an 8 out of 10. It's probably not good enough to make my annual top ten best albums countdown (sorry Tay Tay, but as good as you are you ain't puttin' out better material than Matthew Sweet, Mark Lanegan, Round Eye or John motherfuckin' Carpenter) but it's certainly worthy of an honorable mention. In all you've got probably six or seven really, really good songs - including "New Year's Day," which might just be the best song Taylor's ever released - about four or five that or just kinda' alright and maybe two or three that are fairly unremarkable. But to her credit, there are no bad tracks on the CD, which is something you can't really say about MOST mainstream pop releases these days.

So that's that, kids. Taylor's heavily hyped album is out, and while it's not as great as all of the buildup would lead you to believe, it's still a very good, WAY above average for its genre (and especially timeframe) release. The only question now is which direction Tay Tay will take for album number seven. Hmm - is she on the verge of crafting her Darkness on the Edge of Town? Hold onto your hats, ladies and gents ... something tells me Swift's next CD is going to REALLY blow us out of the water.


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