It's insufferable to quote one's self, but watch me as I do it anyway. After my first listen of Taylor Swift's newest album Reputation I went back and re-read my review of 1989, where I worried that she "sold off a bit of her Taylor-ness." I wrote that some of the tracks suffered from a "touch of anonymity" and hoped that "Swift hasn't settled for being Queen of the Pop Princesses."
Dammit so much.
Most of Reputation can be described as "aggressively mediocre." It's full of synth beats, drum loops, and auto-tune. Even the finger snaps are electronic precision. Swift left banjos behind after Red; now she's chosen to forgo actual musical instruments altogether.
As the album's title suggests, Swift seems preoccupied with how she's perceived. On the otherwise unmemorable "Delicate," she sings, "My reputation's never been worse/so you must like me for me." I want to give her a hug like Robin Williams did to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting and assure her that we DO like her for her. She's one of her generation's greatest songwriters. She doesn't need to mold herself into something she's not.
Take, for instance, the album's second track, "End Game." It features rappers Future and Ed Sheeran. What's that? You didn't know Ed Sheeran was a rapper? Well, he gets his pasty ginger flow on, and it goes about how you'd expect. The song might as well be called "Generic 2017 Hip-Hop Chart-Topper." That's followed by the similarly awful "I Did Something Bad," and sometimes, folks, the jokes just write themselves, amiright?
Most of the songs aren't bad, but they're just sort of...there. I listened to the record three times through before sitting down to write this, and I still can't tell you anything about "So It Goes," "Don't Blame Me," "King of My Heart," or "Dancing With Our Hands Tied." There are 15 songs on the album, and I'd characterize at least 1/3 as unequivocal filler.
Then there are a few tunes that qualify as "Fine, I guess?" I'd put "Call it What You Want," "Gorgeous," and "Dress" in this category. They'd all be among the worst songs on Taylor's better albums, but here they stand out from the colorless flotsam that makes up most of Reputation.
Thankfully, there are some highlights. The "Hard Knock Life" homage "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things" makes for a certified banger. In addition to a Great Gatsby shout-out, it features a cackling Taylor breaking up in the midst of a faux apology that she "can't even say with a straight face." The Jack Antonoff influence is strong on what is probably the album's best song, "Getaway Car." It sounds like a really good Bleachers song sung by Swift, which is sort of ideal.
I've even leaned into "Look What You Made Me Do," even though I was horrified by it when it was released. It's a total disaster of a song, but at least it's a fun, campy disaster with a chorus that's delightful to chant when you've just done something naughty. And it's definitely on-brand Taylor- petty and directed at her haters.
You know what's off-brand and artificial? All the boozy references on Reputation. Does anyone really believe Swift enjoys "whiskey on ice," as she claims on "Gorgeous"? Or that she swills "beer out of plastic cups" ("King of My Heart") and frequents a "dive bar on the East Side" ("Delicate")? Plus, she drops her first recorded curse word, accusing some ex of "talking shit." I have to be careful about playing Taylor Frigging Swift in the car with my kids now? That's some fracking bullspit.
I dunno. Maybe this is who she is now. Perhaps it's an honest representation. But it sure feels like she's straining to prove that the old Taylor, as she claims on "LWYMMD," is dead.
Not until the album's final track does the wistful, winsome Swift appear with a spare piano ballad about helping a friend clean up empty bottles on "New Year's Day." It would be a pretty unremarkable tune on the rest of her catalogue, but here it stands out. It's like the old Taylor broke through for one song at the end, forcing her way through the over-produced electronic sheen of the rest of the album.
Taylor, we know you're still in there. If you can hear us, harken to the words of a legendary songwriter:
Come back...be here.
Nolanometer Final Grade: C-
Speak Now: A-
Taylor Swift: IDK. I don't like country, never listened to it.