ARTIST: Taylor Swift
LABEL: Big Machine
RELEASED: October 27th 2014
After a two year wait, the fifth Taylor Swift album is finally here. Her last album Red was the record that really made me take notice of Taylor and since its October 2012 release, it has become one of my favourite albums ever. So you’d think that Ms Swift had a lot to live up to in my eyes and indeed she did. However, I have developed a deep love for both her music and her personality over the last couple of years and I had little reason to believe that 1989 was going to be anything other than another amazing record.
The album’s lead single Shake It Off was released last month and it was the most solid evidence yet of Taylor’s departure from the country girl who began her career in 2006 at the tender age of 17. Of course, Red showcased the undeniable pop sound of We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together and 22 and indeed, Taylor’s albums have always shown a growing process that means she evolves with everything she puts out. 1989 is no different. This time, we see a more mysterious, quirky and synth-led pop sound. While writing the album, Taylor said last year: “There are probably seven or eight songs that I know I want on the record. It has already evolved into a new sound, and that’s all I wanted.” Confessing that she was inspired by late 80s pop such as Madonna and Annie Lennox while writing 1989, Taylor picked her birth year as the title saying: “There were a few artists in the late 80s who I think made the most incredible, bold, risky decisions as far as pop music goes. They were really ahead of their time.”
Opening with a vibrant exciting track called Welcome To New York, 1989 gets off to a youthful start which incorporates intricate synth patterns and a thumping electro beat. These are common motifs on the album and characterise Taylor’s new sound. Her vocals have an echo to them which is another continuing theme as is the ridiculously catchy melody. It moves on to Blank Space, which is one of my favourite tracks on the album. The lyrics really show how far Taylor has come in the maturity process. Rather than gushing about how perfect a relationship will be, Blank Space suggests uncertainty about how things will pan out. This is obviously influenced by her romantic past and it has a much more realistic attitude to love than her earlier music. It has a simple beat and is very focused on the lyrics, which show a confident girl who has insecurities -something every fan listening will relate to.
Style has a funky riff and a disco-esque beat running through it with a chorus that no one will refuse a dance to. It’s about being part of a perfect power couple and has an infectious kooky slant that has a certain amount of darkness underneath it. Towards the end, Taylor’s vocals soar and it ends on an explosive rendition of the incredibly catchy chorus once again. Out Of The Woods is the perfect track for a live show as the chorus is a chant that simply has to be shouted en masse. The electro chimes, synths and breathy vocals suggested a little influence from Taylor’s friend Ellie Goulding and it could indeed sit on a Goulding album comfortably. There are lines which could only refer to One Direction’s ladies’ man Harry Styles who Taylor had a brief relationship with at the end of last year -“Your necklace round my neck… Two paper aeroplanes flying”, which is a nod to the matching necklaces that Taylor and Harry were seen wearing during their romance.
Another song about a broken relationship is All You Had To Do Was Stay, in which the lover wants her back. A rising electric shimmer kicks it off and a sweet girly melody carries it along. There is a catchy chanting hook that will no doubt make it a crowd pleaser and simple backing that again pushes the focus on to the lyrics and story. I Wish You Would is a song full of regret but set to a cheerful bubbly rhythm and beat. It’s fast-paced and kooky both in vocal delivery and backing with slower, dramatic choruses and catchy runs that reminded me of the uniqueness of Haim. It runs into Bad Blood, which is full of angst and darkness. The acapella opening is followed by a strong drum and low creeping vocals. It’s very simplistic but the venom in the lyrics is what shines through, giving it a strong dramatic place on the album.
Taylor also demonstrates her ethereal mystical side on Wildest Dreams which has echoes of another 80s pop legend Kate Bush. The eerie haunting synths and ghostly vocals with deep, feminine sighs put me in mind of Wuthering Heights. The atmosphere is so strong and mysterious and the images it paints are so pretty. This Love is a similar situation, where we see Taylor take us into a world of dreams and wonder on a cloud of peaceful riffs and strong dark drums. Her vocals are stripped right down to the simplest whispers but at times take off into the soundscape. This is before the darkness of I Know Places, which is all about the struggle to find privacy as a celebrity particularly when it comes to dating. A dark piano and stuttering vocals on the verse give way to the open ethereal chorus which is the gateway to the chilled atmospheric sound that the song adopts. It’s almost like it has found its own private place where no one can hunt it down and now it’s free to relax.
Yet more electronic synth work is displayed on How You Get The Girl, which is a must-listen guide for men everywhere. It has a laid-back summer vibe and is the closest that 1989 gets to the old Taylor Swift. However, the synths are still there and it’s an upbeat youthful track that would do well as a single. The closing track Clean is another favourite of mine. The synths take on a quirky clockwork vibe that exudes a certain magic. It’s about the end of a relationship that meant a great deal and the process of forgetting that person. The lyrics are wonderfully poetic and the weary sighs make it a relaxing track that is perfect for winding down to.
All in all, there are a few songs on 1989 that I really love and will definitely become regular plays for me. I do prefer Red as an album in its entirety as I love songs such as All Too Well and I Almost Do that have notes which are real belters. However, Taylor really can do little wrong in my opinion. Her new sound certainly suits her very well and is much more grown-up than the fairytale country-pop that she is best known for but who knows what the next Swift album will have in store?