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Taylor Swift 'The Tortured Poets Department'

Taylor Swift  'The Tortured Poets Department' album cover


The Tortured Poets Department

I guess this is what happens when you re-write the entire music industry business model. There’s nobody left who can say: "No, Taylor Swift, you can’t release your eleventh album halfway through a two year world tour, playing nearly all your previous albums while also re-recording them, and make it a double." And I’m here for what is arguably the most hyped release of a recording ever - The Tortured Poets Department.

Swift doesn’t need to consider the record label marketing schedules, or streaming algorithms. The freedom to release what she wants, when she wants is, to my memory, unprecedented. This is not an album for the casual listener. The artist said it herself: this is the album she needed to write. There’s flashes of dark humour, characteristic insights and language mastery in the lyrics, but also meta tricks, like calling out fans for calling out her in a weird self-referential feedback loop. The clever wordplay is designed to couch the very subject she is simultaneously claiming to be revealing.

This is an album so focused on lyrics, that the music almost takes a back seat. Generally, the songs seem to boil down to a chaotic face-off between the thoughtful understated and warm production of Aaron Dessner versus Jack Antonoff’s polished ice synth and DRUMS!!! In this way, the album itself becomes metaphor for the double life Taylor has been living, with her successful tour in the public eye and her relatively less successful romantic life in private. It is, as they say, a lot, even for this card carrying member of the Swiftiehood.

Taylor calls on Post Malone for the slightly bland opening track and first single, 'Fortnight'. The cynic in me sees this move as a play for all the new football fans she has picked up alongside her new relationship with Travis Kelce. But its super-radio-friendly processed chorus hides some less safe lyrics. Ahem, cheating, killing AND ‘functioning alcoholic’? We’ve only just started.

And you can’t help but quietly cheer TayTay for calling out softbois everywhere on the title track. 'My Boy Only Breaks His Favourite Toys' would make a great Lana Del Rey song. Try not singing along to the oh-ohs after a few listens.

'Down Bad', the track everyone (including even Travis) are talking about, seems innocuous on first listen, but turns into a neverending earworm, as does 'Fresh Out The Slammer'. The infamous track five slot had to be ‘So Long London’, with lyrics that hit hard like "I’m pissed off you let me give all that youth away for free". The Antonoff statement drums that course like an accelerated heartbeat through the background are completely redundant.

With her level of musical ubiquity, playing spot the TayTay reference is pretty easy these days, but spotting the external reference points in this album is revealing. ‘I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can)’ seems to give a nod to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, until a twist at the end. Elsewhere the pop culture borrowing stretches to what sounds like outright plagiarism in ‘The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived’, with its bridge’s similarity to Passenger’s ‘Hell or High Water’.

The light dreamy harmonies of 'Guilty As Sin?' are a welcome reprieve from all the full throttle drama, sandwiched between 'Florida!!!' featuring Florence (of The Machine) and ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me’, a blistering riposte to the media, industry, fans, exes …take your pick.

I have often wondered how Taylor can listen to a click track for three-and-a-half hours a night repeatedly, and not go mad. Apparently she can’t. On ‘I Can Do It With A Broken Heart’, the beat starts off mechanically, then transforming with a maniacal fuelled synth over the top. Bitch, please! At this point I can’t even tell what’s a bridge any more. After so much of the record being exes Joe and Matty coded, Travis gets a clear nod and a wink on ‘The Alchemy’.

Clara Bow’s mocking of Taylor’s lack of ‘edge’ rehashes an old gag from 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' - that Taylor has never been cool. On Red it was a sarcastic in-joke at her expense; on TTPD it mocks the industry she has single-handledly dismantled.

TTPD is a snapshot of a chaotic moment in time, rather than a new era. As an artist who gives so much of herself to fans, this record is finally reclaiming something for herself, and that’s sure to annoy some people. Will it break more records anyway? Of course. It really is Taylor’s world, and we are along for the ride.


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