Monday 29 April 2024

Review of 'The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology' by Taylor Swift

The new 2 hour Taylor album is anything but 'swift'.

I hate long albums. And I’ve never been the biggest Taylor Swift fan. But I thought I ought to give this album a shot. I haven’t listened to a Taylor Swift album since Folklore and since then Taylor has only continued to grow from superstar to hyperstar. Her album cycles have become the biggest event in the musical calendar, and for me to skip this album would be like a political commentator not covering a national election.

Originally, this album was only supposed contain 16 songs. But two hours after releasing The Tortured Poets Department, Taylor decided to add 15 more. I’m hoping she doesn’t add any other songs before I’ve finished writing this review. Especially if they’re the same quality as what we’ve been served up here – this is by far the worst album I’ve heard from Taylor Swift. Another hour of this would indeed be ‘torture’.

Taylor has some undeniable bops under her belt, but there are absolutely none on offer here. Aside from ‘I Can Do It With A Broken Heart’ and its explosive chorus, the marathon tracklist sees Taylor trundling along in first gear over dreary minimal keys and guitars. The drums sound like stock samples and are half-buried underneath everything else. And the vocal melodies are forgettable.

Perhaps intentionally, this forces the listener to focus on Taylor’s tortured poetry. In the first few tracks, we’re immediately bombarded with Gen Z slang like ‘down bad’ and ‘I felt seen’, along with enough f-bombs to make Fred Durst wince. Taylor has clearly adapted her songwriting to appeal to younger generations. However, the old Taylor is still here. The song about an ex leaving a typewriter at her house is both eyeroll-worthy and classic Taylor. In fact, it left me wanting more colourful stories of eccentric douchebag exes.

The first eight tracks are peppered with memorable lines about wine mums and Charlie Puth apparently being underrated. But we don’t really get any truly clever penmanship from Taylor until ‘Florida’. The line ‘my friends all smell like weed or little babies’ is a brilliant observation of what it’s like to be a childfree thirty-something. Unfortunately, the track is ruined by Florence and the Machine singing ‘Floridaaaaaa’ in her trademark annoying warble and Taylor concluding ‘Florida, go on, fuck me up’.

Shortly after this, the songs start to get forgettable. In fact, we get fourteen tracks of almost nothing notable happening besides a surprise reference to The Black Dog pub in London (which has since become a travel hotspot for Swifties). Track 22, ‘So High School’, at last breaks up the monotony with some memorable lines – but they’re not memorable because they’re good. The song is a 00s nostalgia anthem that references ‘Aristotle’ for the sole reason that it rhymes with ‘spin the bottle’. And then she attempts to rhyme ‘Aristostle’ with ‘Grand Theft Auto’. Ok, Taylor.

The most bizarre lyric on the album appears in the track straight after this: ‘My friends used to play a game where/ we would pick a decade/ we wish we could live in instead of this/ I’d say the 1830s but without all the racists’. It’s got an entertaining off-the-wall Mark Kozelek vibe to it, I guess? The difference is that Swift sings it with sincerity in her voice. Why are we bringing 1830s racism into this song? Why was that necessary?

The last leg of this album is pretty uneventful and I zoned out from much of it, having pretty much formed my opinion of this record. It’s an overstuffed and largely uneventful slog of an album. On the rare occasion we do get a memorable lyric, it’s either bad or bizarre. This leads me to believe that Taylor is largely freestyling at this point. Folklore may have been just as instrumentally wishy-washy, but it had genuine poetry on it that Taylor had clearly taken time to curate and edit. The Tortured Poets Department feels like a bunch of rough drafts. It has a such a demoralised energy to it that I’m half-inclined to believe that it was written by a bunch of poets being waterboarded and thumb-screwed in her mansion basement *proceeds to Google poets that have recently gone missing*.