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Taylor Swift’s New Album, ‘The Tortured Poets Division,’ Might Use an Editor: Assessment


If there was a typical thread — an invisible string, if you’ll — connecting the previous few years of Taylor Swift’s output, it has been abundance.

Almost 20 years into her profession, Swift, 34, is extra widespread and prolific than ever, sating her ravenous fan base and increasing her cultural domination with a near-constant stream of music — 5 new albums plus 4 rerecorded ones since 2019 alone. Her final LP, “Midnights” from 2022, rolled out in a number of editions, every with its personal additional songs and collectible covers. Her record-breaking Eras Tour is a three-and-a-half-hour marathon that includes 40-plus songs, together with the revised 10-minute model of her lost-innocence ballad “All Too Properly.” On this imperial period of her lengthy reign, Swift has operated below the tenet that extra is extra.

What Swift reveals on her sprawling and infrequently self-indulgent eleventh LP, “The Tortured Poets Division,” is that this stretch of productiveness and business success was additionally a tumultuous time for her, emotionally. “I can learn your thoughts: ‘She’s having the time of her life,’” Swift sings on “I Can Do It With a Damaged Coronary heart,” a percolating monitor that evokes the glitter and adoration of the Eras Tour however admits, “All of the items of me shattered as the gang was chanting ‘extra.’” And but, that’s precisely what she continues to offer, asserting two hours after the discharge of “Poets” that — shock! — there was a second “quantity” of the album, “The Anthology,” that includes 15 extra, although largely superfluous, tracks.

Gone are the character research and fictionalized narratives of Swift’s 2020 folk-pop albums “Folklore” and “Evermore.” The feverish “Tortured Poets Division” is a full-throated return to her specialty: autobiographical and typically spiteful tales of heartbreak, filled with detailed, referential lyrics that her followers will enjoyment of decoding.

Swift doesn’t title names, however she drops loads of boldfaced clues about exiting a long-term cross-cultural relationship that has grown chilly (the wrenching “So Lengthy, London”), briefly taking over with a tattooed dangerous boy who raises the hackles of the extra judgmental folks in her life (the wild-eyed “However Daddy I Love Him”) and beginning recent with somebody who makes her sing in — ahem — soccer metaphors (the weightless “The Alchemy”). The topic of essentially the most headline-grabbing monitor on “The Anthology,” a fellow member of the Tortured Billionaires Membership whom Swift reimagines as a highschool bully, is correct there within the title’s odd capitalization: “thanK you aIMee.”

At occasions, the album is a return to kind. Its first two songs are potent reminders of how viscerally Swift can summon the flushed delirium of a doomed romance. The opener, “Fortnight,” a pulsing, synth-frosted duet with Put up Malone, is chilly and managed till traces like “I really like you, it’s ruining my life” encourage the tune to thaw and glow. Even higher is the chatty, radiant title monitor, on which Swift’s voice glides throughout easy keyboard arpeggios, self-deprecatingly evaluating herself and her lover to extra daring poets earlier than concluding, “This ain’t the Chelsea Lodge, we’re fashionable idiots.” Many Swift songs get misplaced in dense thickets of their very own vocabulary, however right here the goofy particularity of the lyrics — chocolate bars, first-name nods to associates, a reference to the pop songwriter Charlie Puth?! — is unusually humanizing.

For all its sprawl, although, “The Tortured Poets Division” is a curiously insular album, usually cradled within the acquainted, amniotic throb of Jack Antonoff’s manufacturing. (Aaron Dessner of the Nationwide, who lends a extra muted and natural sensibility to Swift’s sound, produced and helped write 5 tracks on the primary album, and nearly all of “The Anthology.”) Antonoff and Swift have been working collectively since he contributed to her blockbuster album “1989” from 2014, and he has turn into her most constant collaborator. There’s a sonic uniformity to a lot of “The Tortured Poets Division,” nonetheless — gauzy backdrops, gently thumping synths, drum machine rhythms that lock Swift right into a clipped, chirping staccato — that means their partnership has turn into too comfy and dangers rising stale.

Because the album goes on, Swift’s lyricism begins to really feel unrestrained, imprecise and unnecessarily verbose. Breathless traces overflow and lead their melodies down circuitous paths. As they did on “Midnights,” inside rhymes multiply like recitations of dictionary pages: “Digital camera flashes, welcome bashes, get the matches, toss the ashes off the ledge,” she intones in a bouncy cadence on “Contemporary Out the Slammer,” one in all a number of songs that lean too closely on rote jail metaphors. Narcotic imagery is one other inspiration for a few of Swift’s most trite and head-scratching writing: “Florida,” apparently, “is one hell of a drug.” When you say so!

That tune, although, is without doubt one of the album’s finest — a thunderous collaboration with the pop sorceress Florence Welch, who blows in like a gust of recent air and permits Swift to harness a extra theatrical and dynamic aesthetic. “Responsible as Sin?,” one other pretty entry, is the uncommon Antonoff manufacturing that frames Swift’s voice not in inflexible electronics however in a ’90s soft-rock ambiance. On these tracks particularly, crisp Swiftian photos emerge: an imagined lover’s “messy top-lip kiss,” 30-something associates who “all odor like weed or little infants.”

It could not be a Swift album with out an overheated and disproportionately scaled revenge tune, and there’s a doozy right here referred to as “Who’s Afraid of Little Previous Me?,” which bristles with indignation over a grand, booming palette. Given the big cultural energy that Swift wields, and the truth that she has performed dexterously with humor and irony elsewhere in her catalog, it’s shocking she doesn’t ship this one with a (wanted) wink.

Loads of nice artists are pushed by emotions of being underestimated, and have needed to discover new targets for his or her ire as soon as they turn into too profitable to convincingly declare underdog standing. Beyoncé, who has reached the same second in her profession, has opted to look outward. On her lately launched “Cowboy Carter,” she takes goal on the racist traditionalists lingering within the music business and the thought of style as a method of confinement or limitation.

Swift’s new venture stays mounted on her inside world. The villains of “The Tortured Poets Division” are just a few much less well-known exes and, on the unexpectedly venomous “However Daddy I Love Him,” the “wine mothers” and “Sarahs and Hannahs of their Sunday finest” who cluck their tongues at our narrator’s courting choices. (Some may speculate that these are literally photographs at her personal followers.) “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” might be essentially the most satisfyingly vicious breakup tune Swift has written since “All Too Properly,” however it’s predicated on an influence imbalance that goes unquestioned. Is a conflict between the smallest man and the most important lady on this planet a good struggle?

That’s a knotty query Swift may need been extra eager to untangle on “Midnights,” an uneven LP that nonetheless discovered Swift asking deeper and tougher questions on gender, energy and grownup womanhood than she does right here. It’s to the detriment of “The Tortured Poets Division” {that a} sure starry-eyed fascination with fairy tales has crept again into Swift’s lyricism. It’s virtually singularly targeted on the salvation of romantic love; I attempted to maintain a tally of what number of songs yearningly reference wedding ceremony rings and ran out of fingers. By the top, this attitude makes the album really feel a bit airtight, missing the depth and taut construction of her finest work.

Swift has been selling this poetry-themed album with hand-typed lyrics, sponsored library installations and even an epilogue written in verse. A palpable love of language and a fascination with the methods phrases lock collectively in rhyme actually programs by means of Swift’s writing. However poetry shouldn’t be a advertising technique and even an aesthetic — it’s an entire manner of trying on the world and its language, turning them each the wrong way up in the hunt for new meanings and prospects. Additionally it is an artwork kind wherein, very often and counter to the governing precept of Swift’s present empire, much less is extra.

Sylvia Plath as soon as referred to as poetry “a tyrannical self-discipline,” as a result of the poet should “go to date and so quick in such a small house; you’ve obtained to burn away all of the peripherals.” Nice poets know how you can condense, or at the least how you can edit. The sharpest moments of “The Tortured Poets Division” could be much more piercing within the absence of extra, however as a substitute the litter lingers, whereas Swift holds an unlit match.

Taylor Swift
“The Tortured Poets Division”
(Republic)



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