Out of all the post-modern pop acts to come out of the US, Taylor Swift is certainly one of the most compelling and sonically innovative of the bunch. She started out as a country act, then took a bold leap into the world of dub-step, and on her latest album, “1989”, she is throwing all of that away to reach new heights of her artistic creativity.
I can’t honestly say that I’m a swifty, and perhaps what has always kept me from fully embracing her as more than just disposable fatigue are her recurring lyrical themes of break-ups and heartaches. Musically, her material is often positive and uplifting, even in the darker moments. But in terms of her writing, she never really seems to deliver much depth or range. Tracks like “Love Story”, “22” and “You Belong With Me” are all incredibly catchy, but they also mostly operate on surface level. They don’t have a lot of layers, and because of that we never truly feel like we know our superstar as well as we’d like to. Fortunately, this new record sees the popstar take an unexpected and effective turn for the better.
There isn’t much left of the old Swift on “1989”, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Acoustic guitars and dub-step beats have been largely replaced by synthesizers, country twang has been pushed aside in favor of electronic drum beats, and best of all – there are no clamouring ballads about guys being douchebags to girls. The change of pace and style can be hard to swallow at first, especially if you are used to the glitter-sprinkled, southern-tinged, and sugarcoated tunes on “Fearless”. But the more you listen to it, the greater your appreciation will grow, and the more you will understand why she chose to start over from scratch.
What we’re dealing with here is undoubtedly the singer’s most personal endeavour to date. Admittedly, Swift still sings about lost love and staying up all night, but for the first time it feels thoughtful and reflective rather than bloated and overcooked. At times it is playful and bouncy as a rubber ball, such as on tracks like the wonderful “Style”, which sounds like a 21st century new wave anthem for Generation Y. Or what about “Bad Blood”, a cocky in-your-face hard-hitter with rebellious gang-choir and punchy lyrics. Other times the record ventures into indie-territory, like with the song “Out of the Woods”, which is one of the highlights on the disc. Its obscure opening loop and echoing vocals make for a breathtaking cut that showcases Taylor’s gloomier emotions and mature songwriting. It is on a track like this that she really gets to shine, and luckily the album is packed with gems like this.
Out of the Woods
Wonderland (Deluxe Edition)