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Review: Taylor Swift – The Tortured Poets Department

National Music Reviews

Taylor Swift
The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology
Republic Records
Street: 04.19
Taylor Swift = Gracie Abrams x Florence & The Machine 

It takes time to digest a 31-track album. Especially when it’s one from Taylor Swift. Upon my first two, even three, listens of Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, I couldn’t figure out how I felt. 

I can’t say that it is any clearer the more time I take to digest these songs. What I can say is this album is similar to Reputation and Midnights—it grows on me the more and more I listen. 

On The Tortured Poets Department Taylor is messier than she’s  probably ever been—and that’s not a dig. The titles for her songs are longer; The lyrics are all over the place: clunky at certain spots, shocking at others. The timeline, no matter how hard devout Swifties try, is hard to nail down. 

It’s all intentional, of course, as Swift always is. The album, best put, combines the lyricism of Folklore and pop vibes of Midnights and that makes it harder to put into a succinct category.. The tortured poet is not Matty Healy or Joe Alwyn (at least not the entire time), but Swift herself. 

And really, when has a tortured poet ever made complete sense? Well, it depends on who you’re asking — and what that person is going through at that given moment. 

The album has its standouts, kicking off with the dreamy collab “Fortnight” with Utah’s own Post Malone. Once the album came out, Swift said the first song is meant to encapsulate the entire theme of the body of the work, perhaps best captured by these lines, “I love you / it’s ruining my life.” If there’s anything to lament about the song, it’s that there isn’t more Post Malone on it. 

The album’s title track is something that could’ve easily fit into Midnights with its more upbeat, whimsical feel. As the tracklist continues, it’s the fan favorites that really stick out. “Down Bad” is the anthem that Swifties always crave from her albums, a universal track that captures the precocious  nature of love bombing and being interested in someone new. “Fresh Out the Slammer” with its old-timey Western production plays with the idea of a relationship becoming akin to a jail sentence. 

The album’s other collaboration, with Florence Welch, “Florida!!!” is another highlight—both Welch and Swift’s voices  are ethereal together. “loml” and “Clara Bow” are standouts, too. 

So Long, London”, a sonic epiphany that sounds haunted,  is one of two tracks  on the album that connects back to Swift’s previous work, “Lover”, specifically the song “London Boy.”  The other is “The Black Dog” which utilizes the idea of a certain space belonging to a couple, like in “Cornelia Street.” 

Guilty as Sin,” one of the album’s best tracks and key examples of the shining, true spots of Swift that fans will recognize is reminiscent of “False God” with lyrics like “What if the way you hold me is actually what’s holy” that denote religious imagery. The constant sighs that bracket “The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived” make the slow song that much more sad. 

But, the further you get down the track list, the harder it is to differentiate the songs and remember them all. Some of them, unfortunately, are forgettable in the long, decadent landscape of Swift’s discography. 

This is not an album for, nor about the fans despite a few self-aware jabs on a couple of the tracks.  It’s not an album for any ex-boyfriend. The collection of songs, the messiness, the moments where it hits and the moments where it doesn’t, it’s all for the most tortured poet of all: Swift.

 In the same way Lover seemed to close a certain era of songwriting and subject matter for Swift, I think The Tortured Poets Department will do the same. These are songs she needed to get out, things she needed to write about in order to move past them. While her lyricism and production ring true, it’s not consistent throughout, making the project a bit of a mess to untangle for fans, casual and otherwise. 

But, perhaps that’s the whole point. Maybe we should let the tortured poet be, for the time being, and accept that the songs will grow on us, or fade away into the background—just as the sensation of getting over a hard period in one’s life does. –Palak Jayswal 

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