Sometime last August, Taylor Swift uttered one fateful phrase: ‘1989 will be my first official documented pop album’. To industry bosses, this caused understandable trepidation. Much buzz is currently made over how Swift is the best hope to revive a dying industry wallowing in plummeting sales, and therefore it is not without great assessment and care that I write this review.
To start off, Swift’s collaborators on the record display her move from country to pop quite evidently. These are names such as Ryan Tedder, Jack Antonoff and Max Martin, and their influences can be heard in songs such as ‘Out of the Woods’ and ‘Style’ (I challenge you to listen to another of Martin’s hits, ‘Love Me Harder’, and not be able to pick up a similarity or two). Yet the 80s influence Swift repeatedly mentions is apparent like a hidden undercurrent throughout the whole record, referencing artists across the 80s spectrum: form Kate Bush, the ELO and Fleetwood Mac to Tears For Fears, the Eurythmics and A-Ha. These are references that many of her younger fans will not necessarily pick up, and the judgemental cynics will also be just as blind to the nuances: but this should not be a problem for Swift.
That’s not to say 1989 is perfect and without its faults. Songs such as ‘Welcome to New York’ and ‘All You Had to Do Was Stay’ are not as strong as some of the other material on the album. Swift is at her most relevant when she uses her acute lyricism to express herself, and in the weaker songs the lyrics are compromised by the many different sounds she is attempting to incorporate. Given how interesting all three bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are, these two could well have been replaced.
However, there is some obvious greatness in an album when the lead single – and multi platinum number one lead single at that – is not even the best song on the album by a long shot. ‘Shake It Off’ had some fans worried that Swift was succumbing too much to mainstream pressures, but 1989 as a whole proves that is not the case. There are songs where this balance is potentially precarious – ‘Bad Blood’ being one of them. The lines ‘now we got bad blood/there used to be mad love’ as in the chorus, are decidedly dodgy, but Swift just about manages to get away with it.
When 1989 reaches its peak, it really is glorious. Songs such as ‘Wildest Dreams’, ‘I Know Places’ and ‘Clean (featuring Imogen Heap)’ are beautifully triumphant, especially since they strike the balance between the new pop sound and the songwriting quality that Swift is known for. Such is her integrity as an artist that when she sings ‘on my head, as I lost the war/and the sky turned black like a perfect storm’, we take her seriously as opposed to melodramatic.
By the time one reviews any artist’s fifth album, it’s impossible not to consider the LP’s place both in the genre and the artist’s overall development, as well as the record’s place in music as a whole. 1989 is not a perfect album, and only the most hardcore of all Swift’s fans will love every single song. But for 1989 to maintain such a level of consistency, and on a pop album no less, makes it worthy of admiration. It’s much easier to write a decent, steady country album (see Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts et al) and Swift has proven herself more than up to the task in her first four records. But in a music industry where ‘pop’ is sounding increasingly generic and female artists are beginning to blur into one another, Swift’s country and songwriting Nashville roots lend her in good stead, enabling her to write a record still full of musical integrity despite its genre. For what 1989 represents to many, which is hope for the arguably floundering pop industry, Taylor Swift has against all odds managed to create a brilliant album.
Without doubt does it have a shot at platinum in its release week: not bad for an artist still signed to an indie label.