Taylor Swift – Reputation (Big Machine)

My household was counting down the days to the new Tay Tay album following Instagram feeds, fan pages and the like. Lead single Look What You Made Me Do  had us worried as it was clearly not her best work and there were some sharp intakes of breath when she appeared to transform into a nude Cyborg in her video for Ready For It? . Will everything be ok in the crazy mixed up world of this celebrity? It’s awesome. Taylor Swift has delivered a modern sounding update that takes her songwriting skills to a new level.

When you are one of the biggest artists in the world, changing your sound and/or image can be quite a gamble if, up to this point, your audience has been largely 11-13-year-old girls (and Ryan Adams). It’s almost an entertainment cliche to suddenly go from squeaky shiny pop star to sexy dark & dirty…see Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry.

Sometimes your audience stays with you and sometimes it signals the start of 40 days and 40 nights in the entertainment desert. Drugs, alcohol and rehab usually follow this detour.  When the advance publicity seemed to signal such a change it caused much consternation in the lounge. However child number 2 reminded me that unlike the other pop stars in this list Taylor has navigated these waters before with her transformation from Country star to pop princess and secondly she writes her own songs and so is not reliant on other songwriters to ‘get’ her new direction. As we huddled round the stereo for first listen it quickly became apparent what has changed on this latest release. Production.

During the IHeartRadio Reputation release party, Taylor outlined the process of writing I Did Something Bad. Initially written on Piano, the production idea come to her in a dream. Next day she described the concept to producer Max Martin, and Martin pitched Swift’s vocal  down to create the effect that takes place after the chorus. This process is one that I imagine happened again and again. Songs written in a traditional method and then fed into the studio production team of Jack Antonoff, Max Martin, Shellback who added and subtracted ideas until everyone was happy.Electronic drums, dramatic keyboard beds, and loopy reverbed vocal effects are all used to serve up album number six.

Speaking of vocal effects, there is a lot of Vocoder in modern music (who could have predicted that?) and it makes regular appearances on this album. While  I’m still Iffy about it’s continued use Delicate and End Game almost get away with it. Another current chart trend that has been infecting songwriting is that of the artist feeling the need to insert a Hip Hop vibe and so double down on the celebrity endorsement with a featured artist. Eight of the currentNZ Top 20  make use of this trick. Well, here I’m pleased to report that Taylor Swift has avoided my rage by only letting buddies Ed Sheeran and Future into her party. Allowing both to appear on Track 2 End Game. Ed’s rapping needs a bit of work but Future keeps it real. Elsewhere Ready For It   bears the marks of the music of the street without resorting to a featured artist. Child 2 remarked that it sounds like a hip hop version of Wildest Dreams which appeared on her last album 1989.

Another friend of Ms Swift is our own Queen of pop, Lorde, and it seems that this musical friendship flows both ways as Reputation is full of songs that bear hallmarks of Lorde’s songs. Working as she does in the field of electronic pop.This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things has the finger clicks and twitchy beats that is all over her back catalogue and you can just imagine Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor dancing in that special way to Gorgeous, Dress and So It Goes. Reputation is not a perfect album with first single  Look what You Made Me Do not improving with familiarity and King Of My Heart takes the dreaded Vocoder sound too far for these ears. The good news for old fans is that not all traces of  the old Taylor have disappeared  with the more straight-ahead pop of Getaway Car and the closing piano ballad that is New Years Day sounding like they could have been on any of the last three albums.

Reputation is an album that takes steps to change the sound and image of Taylor Swift and repeated listens show that it achieves this while still showing the strength of her songwriting. Occasionally the production grate but it is the songs that remain the backbone of an album that is going to be huge. 15 songs and 56 minutes it is a generous helping of Taylor and you have a variety of formats to choose from. Some pre-orders even come with a 72-page collectible magazine that will feature personal poetry, photos, and artwork . However if after reading this review you can’t wait to hear it,  you will have to join the queue at your local record shop as it is currently not available on streaming services. Rest assured you will be in good company as 717,000 American fans purchased it on the first day of release. I can imagine my household listening to it a lot this summer.

Brent Giblin