1989 Taylor Swift Big Machine Records
“It’s a new soundtrack / I could dance to this beat / forever more,” proclaims Swift on the opening track “Welcome to New York” of her highly anticipated fifth studio album, 1989. Though an unmistakably “new” soundtrack for Swift (no country twang or acoustically driven ballads), the album embraces an older era: Buggles’ plastic background vocals, pulsating synth bass lines, swirling reverb tails accompanying tight electronic drum loops, and the cool midnight attitude of 80’s pop nostalgia.
With familiar collaborators Max Martin and Shellback and the masterful Serban Ghenea behind the mix, 1989 sings high production value, but not to a fault. In fact, something tangibly analogue shines through the electronic veneer and grants Swift a niche amidst the rap and power-pop rock sounds that have dominated the billboard in recent years. This niche also marks Swift’s most cohesively themed effort, contrasting the scattered Red album of two years prior. “We never go out of style,” Swift asserts on the track “Style,” appealing to MKTO’s fantasies and with the truth of her statement self-evident: there is a more mature Swift at work on this album, not afraid (as if she ever had been) to make her music her way and having consequently arrived at a sound that carries greater longevity in her “swiftly” increasing catalog.
From the swirling wind of chorus effects in “This Love,” to the marching toms of “Out of the Woods,” to the snap of the 808’s in “Blank Space,” 1989 paints an undeniably inviting and endearing sonic landscape unrivaled by anything but perhaps The 1975’s eponymous debut of last year. The album transcends the bildungsroman that has been documented in Swift’s music throughout the years, showcasing Swift as not only a fully matured songwriter, but as a woman not afraid to “shake it off” and play by her own rules.
However, even with the boldness of the album, Swift quietly and inevitably reveals the vulnerability that made her prior heartbreak hits so relatable. Collaborating with Imogen Heap, “Clean” is a beautifully minimalistic production in which Swift concedes to only thinking of herself to be over a former lover: “Gone was any trace of you / I think I am finally clean.” This same tonality carries through in her collaboration with Ryan Tedder on “I Know Places,” in which she attempts to escape the scrutiny of a love sought to be taken away: “I know places we won’t be found and / they’ll be / chasing their tails / trying to track us down.”
Swift was born in 1989, but the music of this album belongs to all generations and none at the same time; a mark of ambiguity reserved for albums that will stand the test of history. Although categorized as pop, 1989 refuses to adhere to the pop archetypes of the contemporary musical era, carving a well deserved place for itself all its own.
Roland’s Rating: 10/10 Key Tracks: “Style,” “Out of the Woods,” “Blank Space,” and the three songwriting voice memos that come with the deluxe edition