We are never, ever, ever getting back together.
The lines of Taylor Swift’s now-classic lead single could very well have doubled for the press release for her latest album, 1989, in which she declared she was abandoning her country-pop roots in favor of pure pop, a move both lamented and lauded by her contemporaries and critics. 1989, therefore, has a lot to live up to.
Swift has carved herself a niche in the pop landscape; combining brutally honest emotional storytelling, with sugary pop hooks and choruses lesser artists would sell their souls for. Whatever your opinion of her public dating life, it cannot be denied that the artist is a huge global success.
As such, to say 1989 is an album of undeniable highs and lows is a bit of an understatement, although its nature as a love letter to the ’80s – and the eponymous year of Swift’s birth – remains untarnished.
Sadly, a lot of Swift’s pop star prowess has been lost, in a way, to moving away from the romantic idyll in which she produces her best work. That isn’t to say that the more ‘independent’ songs are duds — far from it. Album opener ‘Welcome to New York’ is a midtempo anthem to the Big Apple, and one that will surely be on every NYC-based film’s soundtrack in the next twelve months, while lead single ‘Shake It Off’ is a rousing ode to removing your cares from a bad situation. Further along, tunes such as the romantic ‘Style’, the enjoyable ‘How You Get The Girl’, and the catchy bonus track ‘Wonderland’ are pleasant enough ear candy for any pop fan.
However, some of the songs come off better than others — ‘Bad Blood’, a snappy breakup anthem (supposedly a metaphor for her ‘feud’ with fellow pop star Katy Perry), fares well enough, but too many of the ballads (‘Blank Space’ and ‘You R In Love,’ for example) become soggy and lose any chance to standing out. Thankfully, buzz single ‘Out of the Woods’ (co-written and produced by fun.’s Jack Antonoff) is head and shoulders above the rest, combining massive drums and ethereal vocals to create a power ballad worthy of the decade that inspired the album’s name, and worthy of the ensuing fan reaction.
Sonically, Swift may well have gone fully to the side of pop, but her adventurousness here pales a little in comparison to the leaps made by predecessor Red which infused pop, gospel and dubstep into proceedings. Fortunately one of the best is album closer ‘Clean’, the highly-anticipated collaboration with indie songstress Imogen Heap — which is something that thrills this reviewer. ‘Clean’ is a sparkling, offbeat electronic ode that fuses Heap’s creative spark with Swift’s gift for writing a damn good, emotional pop song. Clearly a full collaboration album needs to happen somewhere down the line.
All in all, 1989 is, ironically, the epitome of a modern pop album. Full of sheen and sparkle and reverence for the ’80s, it dazzles with its brilliance and highs, and meanders in its lows. Swift is a talented pop star, and when she strikes the balance between heartfelt lyricism and addictive pop goodness, she’s more than worth the price of admission. Is it quite the album a lot of us were expecting? Perhaps not. However, given that this is an album that is Swift’s first dip into pure pop, it can be forgiven — particularly when the feeling that Swift has only just begun her journey, is undeniable.