Sound — 7
Taylor Swift began her career at the age of fourteen in a program for "artist development" with RCA Records, which included songwriting sessions with experienced songwriters working in the industry, as well as various lessons. Taylor Swift culminated a lot of relationships in Nashville which she used to catapult her career, including a friendship with Liz Rose, who co-wrote many of Taylor's songs and hits. Initially, Taylor's music was exclusively country music, though she introduced elements of pop as time went on. By the release of her fourth album, "Red," she was considered as much as a pop artist as she was a country artist, then by the release of her current album, "1989," she has officially left country and country pop behind, releasing an album of programmed drums, synthesizers, and heavily processed vocals and backing vocals. Her songwriting remains focused on relationships. There are 13 tracks included on the album, clocking in at just a little under 50 minutes. "Shake It Off" was released as the lead single for the album in August.
The album opens with the track "Welcome to New York," which is an immediate departure from Taylor Swift's previous work and definitely sets the stage for her new sound. "Blank Space" is the second track on the album, and was also released as the second single from the album - it is built around a programmed drum part and a synthesizer-created melody. "Style" is the third track from the album, with a driving bass part carrying the track and making it sound like something somewhere between a pop song and EDM. "Out of the Woods" is much more narrative than a lot of the other tracks on the song, but becomes another breakup song before it works itself out. "All You Had to Do Was Stay" uses a very manufactured melody and programmed drumming, with a very falsetto "stay" acting as the hook. "Shake It Off" is the lead single from the album - it can be pretty catchy and it is almost self-depreciative while also pushing the message of "don't let what other people think bother you," so I guess I can stand behind that. "I Wish You Would" does a lot to create a certain type of ambiance, with some deep driving bass parts, and an almost-epic progression in the song. "Wildest Dreams" is a sultry type of song - especially for Taylor Swift. "Bad Blood" is a pretty straightforward song, basically condemning a previous individual that she was in a relationship with for running their mouth. "How You Get the Girl" is probably the most chopped/processed song on the album, made up of samples of Taylor singing, as well as some sampled guitar parts. "This Love" is one of the songs that it is easiest to hear in a more traditional arrangement, which would have been a beautiful simple song without a lot of the pop elements used. "I Know Places" is another track using some chopped up samples of Taylor's voice and the lyrics seem to be about keeping romantic rendezvous secret. "Clean" is the closing track on the album, and is a great track to close out the album with, having a slightly melancholy vibe (and it was also co-written with Imogen Heap).
Lyrics — 7
Taylor Swift has been honing her vocal skills since she was a child, and no one could ever really say she isn't an exceptional vocalist. She does a great job on the album, though the level of processing used often hides her ability. The lyrics deal mostly with romantic relationships and breakup, which is basically standard procedure for Taylor. As a sample of the lyrics from the album, here are somke from the single, "Shake It Off": "I stay out too late/ Got nothing in my brain/ That's what people say, mmm-mmm/ That's what people say, mmm-mmm/ I go on too many dates/ But I can't make them stay/ At least that's what people say, mmm-mmm/ That's what people say, mmm-mmm/ But I keep cruising/ Can't stop, won't stop moving/ It's like I got this music/ In my mind/ Saying It's gonna be alright/ Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/ And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate/ Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake/ I shake it off, I shake it off/ Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break/ And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake/ Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake/ I shake it off, I shake it off."
Overall Impression — 7
I'm not the biggest Taylor Swift fan, but I've always respected her as a musician and songwriter. That hasn't changed, and I can even understand where she's coming from with taking her inspiration from '80s pop music, but I think the way that the processing was used on the album, and the extent to which programmed drums were used took away from the final product. After subsequent listens I have to give it more credit than most of the pop music out these days, so there is always that. And honestly, this is the year's highest selling album if you don't count the "Frozen" soundtrack, so I guess we all better make peace with it.