Album of the week: 1989, by Taylor Swift

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 November, 2014, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 April, 2016, 12:57pm

Taylor Swift
Big Machine

Much has been made of Taylor Swift's decision to move from country music to pure pop. The transition may seem natural but she is divesting herself of a security blanket: in country, she's one of a kind; in pop she's one among many. Now she stands unshrouded and surrounded by potential rivals.

The album 1989 is a nod to her birth year and to her new, lightly seasoned late 1980s sensibility. She opens with Welcome to New York, a celebration of the city so misguided it could only have been written by a celebrity or a tourist. It's the album's low point.

Taken under a microscope, 1989 is full of generic songwriting and clichéd couplets. But taken altogether (call it a Monet), it rings with charm and vivacity.

Swift tries on lots of styles - they are borrowed: Wildest Dreams is Lana Del Rey, I Wish You Would is Haim, and Lorde is sprinkled throughout. Plus older influences: I heard echoes of Eve 6, Natasha Bedingfield and Savage Garden.

Swift's own contributions are her flawless image ("That good girl faith and a tight little skirt") and her storytelling, which shimmers when specific ("Remember when you hit the brakes too soon/Twenty stitches in the hospital room").

She has a singular way of sounding "like she means it" - when she sees her lover with "some other girl", her voice shudders with anxiety.

Her many public love affairs don't hurt either.

The cumulative effect of the album is like aural fan-fiction - Swift as temptress, Swift as naïf, Swift as cynic.

There are deep, dark themes in her music that genuinely reveal a woman growing up.

Combining a newfound flintiness with her indefatigable energy, 1989 is Swift's best album to date.