Back in 1994 Pink Floyd released The Division Bell and a reviewer stated: it was difficult to review the band as we are all aware of their canon and their reputation. He wondered how would he review this release if it was their debut album? It highlighted the difficulty for the reviewer, namely, can we divorce what we know about the artist and objectively look at their work in isolation? Taylor Swift’s love life seems to be fodder for the masses. People love her, people hate her, people think she is pop pap and her devotees think she is the second coming. Reputation is her sixth album – a juggernaut her fanbase will make so, but is it any good? Can we remove the songs from the image, the singer from the song?
‘…Ready for it’ starts off with big bass and an even bigger beat and finds Swift in confrontational mood singing about relationships (something she is often chastened for but considering that most albums are built around this concept maybe it is a little unfair). There is an undercurrent of lust where she dreams about nocturnal sexual encounters with her current paramour. ‘End Game’ finds our protagonist wanting to be the ‘one’ but not in a passive way. ‘I Did Something Bad’ continues the theme wherein Swift bares her teeth, asserting: “I never trust a narcissist, but they love me, So I play ’em like a violin.”
‘Don’t Blame Me’ has a gospel swing, but so far, all the songs have one thing in common. They play around with rhythm more than melody. They have an r’n’b edge but never stray so far as to abandon the pop sensibilities that Swift knows and deploys so well. ‘Delicate’ keeps this up and highlights the voice and the beat rather well. ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, the multi-million selling lead single, borrows liberally from, of all sources, Right Said Fred. At times listening to Swift is like reading a tabloid newspaper as the songs are built around dissing her latest enemy (however considering she is attacking the planet sized ego of Kanye West maybe that isn’t a bad thing). Make no doubt about it, this is an album about a superstar and her trouble with relationships. Can the average listener relate? Probably not. But then bands like Fleetwood Mac made a career out of the trials and tribulations of superstar sexual shenanigans.
‘So It Goes…’ keeps up the songstress’s love of the ellipse and it moves the album on. ‘Gorgeous’ has an eighties synth riff that gives way to an understated chorus. Swift’s delivery is assured but at times sounds a bit detached from the subject matter. The lyrics suggest lust and desire and maybe she should let go a bit more and feel the emotion. ‘Getaway Car’ feels like a filler; it’s component rather than compelling. ‘King of my Heart’ is more interesting as it plays with drum rhythms and Swift can riff over it very well. It draws out her voice and allows the listener to appreciate her tone and delivery. ‘Dancing with Our Hands Tied’ is more traditional and it drives along at a leisurely pace, while ‘Dress’ has an unmistakeable Haim vibe, ‘I only bought this dress so you could take it off” the singer intones with some degree of sincerity; at least, it feels honest. ‘This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ is one of those songs that Swifties will pour over trying to figure out who is on the receiving end of her ire.
The album ends with ‘Call It What You Want’ and ‘New Year’s Day’ – the former keeping with the overall vibe of the album and the latter is more traditional Taylor Swift territory. Overall, Reputation will sell millions (it already has) and her devoted fanbase won’t care about reviews either positive or negative.