Song of the Day #2,300: ‘Style’ – Taylor Swift

taylor_swift_1989I’m taking a break from Random Weekends in order to get in a quick review of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Swift’s music has generated enough discussion on the blog that I feel I owe it to my loyal readers to chime in on this latest batch.

1989 is, as everybody knows by now, Taylor Swift’s “pop” album. Though she has always flirted with pop in her music, even when she was a bona fide country artist, she has fully embraced the genre here.

Swift is a talented enough songwriter, performer and marketer that 1989 is already the top-selling album released in 2014 — after one week. She is the first artist to have three albums sell more than a million copies in a week — in an era when album sales are tiny compared with the pre-digital age.

So 1989 is without question a success. But is it any good?

I’m pleased to report that it’s very good — some of the best work Swift has produced — for about two-thirds of its running time. She drops a few clunkers into the mix, but effective use of the ‘delete’ key takes care of that.

I’ll get the weakest track out of the way first, just as Swift does. Album opener ‘Welcome to New York’ is a colossal mistake, already infamous for its cheeseball blandness. Its repetitive chorus, corny lyrics and goofy synth line threaten to derail the album before it starts. Swift may love her new hometown, but she’ll find it a lot less hospitable after unleashing this song on the world.

Fortunately, things pick up dramatically from there. Second track ‘Blank Space’ might be the best song on the album, a spare but silky come-on with a chorus that reveals one juicy melodic secret after another.

Up next is another highlight, ‘Style’ (today’s SOTD), a break-up track about former boyfriend Harry Styles that makes nice use of fashion as a metaphor for a relationship that keeps sputtering back to life. The bass line on this thing is so irresistible I just want to put it in my mouth and chew on it.

‘Out of the Woods,’ co-written with Jack Antonoff of fun. and Bleachers, keeps the winning streak going with its shout-along chorus. ‘All You Had to Do Was Stay’ is the best Katy Perry song of this year or last (when Perry actually released an album).

Then comes another rough patch with first single (and huge hit) ‘Shake It Off.’ The song is infectious, sure, but so is Ebola. I cringe at the bridge when Swift references the “sick beat” and tries to rap. I guess it could all be meant as a joke, but if so it’s not a very good one. Still, ‘Shake It Off’ is undeniably a perfect pop single, just not one I need to hear again.

Antonoff returns as co-writer on ‘I Wish You Would,’ a blast of 80s throwback ear candy. 1989 should boost his profile as a pop tunesmith.

Swift’s dis-track aimed at Katy Perry, ‘Bad Blood,’ is another miss. Perhaps this is a meta trick: a Katy Perry slam delivered in the style of a bad Katy Perry song. But that doesn’t make it listenable. The following track, ‘Wildest Dreams,’ is Swift’s stab at a Lana Del Rey song and it, too, falls well short of the mark. The lesson: Taylor should stick to being Taylor… she’s damn good at it.

But that two-song weak patch is redeemed by ‘How You Get the Girl,’ another of my favorite tracks. I can’t resist the chorus of this sweet track delivering advice to a penitent boyfriend.

‘This Love,’ the only track penned solely by Swift, is the album’s lone ballad and the most boring song on 1989. Swift seems to be good for one of these per album, a habit I wish she would break.

She finishes strong, though, with the Lorde-tastic ‘I Know Places’ and the mid-tempo ‘Clean,’ which compares a relationship to a drug addiction and sounds like it should play over the end credits of a John Hughes film.

I’ve read criticism that 1989 is Swift’s safest and least interesting album, but I disagree completely. I find it one of her most compelling and listenable records yet. I still count Speak Now as her high point, but 1989 proves she can pull off anything she sets her mind to. And not just pull it off, but crush it.

My only worry is that Swift has gotten so good at this pop packaging that she’s left behind some of what made her special in the first place. The young woman who wrote every track on Speak Now — 90% of them excellent — has taken to co-writing with radio hitmakers like Max Martin and Shellback.

Is that the best use of her talent? I’d rather her be the next Carole King than the next Madonna. But who knows… if this is her True Blue, maybe 2016 will deliver her Tapestry.

[Verse 1]
Midnight, you come and pick me up, no headlights
Long drive, could end in burning flames or paradise
Fade into view, oh, it’s been a while since I have even heard from you
I should just tell you to leave cause I know exactly where it leads
But I watch it go round and round each time

[Chorus]
You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye
And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like
And then we go crashing down, we come back every time
Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style
You’ve got that long hair slick back, white t-shirt
And I got that good girl faith and a tight little skirt
And when we go crashing down, we come back every time
We never go out of style, we never go out of style

[Verse 2]
So it goes, he can’t keep his wild eyes on the road
Takes me home, lights are off he’s taking off his coat
I say “I’ve heard that you’ve been out and about with some other girl, some other girl”
He says “What you’ve heard is true but I
Can’t stop thinking about you and I.”
I said “I’ve been there, too, a few times”

[Chorus]

[Bridge]
Take me home
Just take me home
Just take me home

[Shortened Chorus]
You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye
And I got that red lip, classic thing that you like
And when we go crashing down, we come back everytime
Cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,300: ‘Style’ – Taylor Swift

  1. Amy says:

    Great review. I’m eagerly awaiting her Tapestry 🙂

  2. Dana says:

    I’ve only heard a few tracks from the album, mainly the singles. I’m encouraged by your review that there are better songs sprinkled into the mix of some lesser ones. I’m assuming based on your review and the album dance theme that there isn’t a country song in the mix, which is interesting from someone who started out that way. I wonder if she has left country behind for good, not that much of early work was classic country anyway.

    Anyway, this song is decent enough, but I too long for a return to the singer/songwriter style that I think remains her strong suit.

  3. Amy says:

    By the way, I happen to mostly agree with your song by song analysis, finding “Blank Space” and “Clean” the highlights after just a few listens of the complete album. While I don’t disdain “Shake it Off” as much as you do, I’m right there with you on the awful NY track and the equally awful “Bad Blood.” It’s just that even if some of the individual songs are catchy and entertaining, they are not nearly as good as the music she was writing before this. Unless she needed this pure pop detour – and the experience of collaborating with savvy dance hit songwriters – in order to move her into an even more nuanced direction, I just don’t get it. So, yes, let her have her fun, but I hope this is not indicative of the new direction her music will take. If so, what a pity.

  4. Amy says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=segmq8LVoks For those who want a taste of the album without listening to more than 4 minutes 🙂 Two members of Pentatonix have provided just the thing 🙂

  5. Clay says:

    Well, you just spoiled tomorrow’s post! 🙂

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