I'm a late convert to Taylor Swift: when the Fearless singles were being played everywhere in 2008/9, her style was almost but not quite to my taste; Speak Now completely passed me by; the goat video captured the extent of my interest in Red.
But after the release of 1989, I was swept up so strongly by the marketing hype and by the quality of Blank Space that I capitalistically enjoyed a CD purchase. I was largely disappointed by the other tracks on the album, but, throwing good money after bad, I sporadically started buying the old Old Taylor albums, completing my set* during the disappointment engendered by Reputation. Now I listen to little else.
*The main ones, not the Christmas album or deluxe editions or EP's or whatever. This post only covers the songs that you'd get if you made the simplest purchases at JB Hifi.
Indulging my semi-completionist instincts, I rate each song and album out of 10 below*. While most music writers pay a lot of attention to lyrics – I suppose it is something that a critic can evaluate in a kind of objective way, taking the basic musical style as given – I often don't hear lyrics, or maybe I hear but don't process them, and my reaction to music is rather a subjective response to the surface-level sound and style. But sometimes I do hear and retain lyrics, and in those cases, it will affect my rating of the song. You may not always know what my criteria were for a particular song, but I knew, when I made the rating.
*MAD is mean absolute deviation.
(YouTube links are supposed to work at the time of writing, but I don't know if they'll stay live, or if there are any geo-restrictions. Some of them are quite recent uploads by UMG.)
Taylor SwiftSwift affects a country southern twang on this album, which on the one hand is interesting, and on the other hand isn't interesting because people usually sing in some standard accent, and country's standard accent is the southern twang.
I was expecting little from what were apparently her pure country days, but I really liked it from my first listen. The sound is a good mix of country and pop: enough country to make the pop sound interesting, but not so much that it sounds like my memories of scrambling to change the radio station because Saturday Night Country had started on the ABC.
I Googled Tim McGraw, and it turns out that he's a famous country singer who wears a country singer hat. 8.6/10
Picture to Burn
Teardrops on My Guitar
A Place in This World
I'm listening to the album as I'm typing this up, and it's just so strong. 8/10
Cold as You
I'll like almost any song with a piano in it, and the rest of the song delivers on the promise of the piano intro. 8.5/10
Even the boring songs are pretty good. 7/10
Tied Together With a Smile
This song ends with a fade-out! 7.5/10
I am simple and like this simple song. 8/10
Should’ve Said No
Most of the songs I really like on this album were co-written with Liz Rose, but Swift has sole writing credit for this song, and it's one of her best ever. 10/10
Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)
This song is happy and I love it. I often don't hear lyrics when I'm listening to music, but I hear these ones. 9.7/10
I’m Only Me When I’m With You
Judging by the Wikipedia article, I bought the 2008 re-issue of this album, whose CD contains four bonus tracks. It feels incorrect to include bonus tracks in this post, but I own them, and Perfectly Good Heart makes my top 45, so in they go. I'll omit the bizarre pop version of Teardrops. 6.5/10
This is pretty close to a great song, but is let down too much by the chorus, whose sound doesn't quite doesn't quite agree with my ears. 7/10
Perfectly Good Heart
Mean ± MAD: 7.9 ± 1.0
Holistic score: 9
FearlessAs best I can infer from file creation dates cross-referenced with bank statements, I bought Fearless on a whim in July 2015. I suspect I listened to it once and then forgot about it.
At some point post-Reputation – it took a while – my brain acquired the taste for this album, and now I'm in a curious position where I quite like a lot of the songs on it individually, while retaining a nagging feeling that the album's a bit samey. I don't have the musical vocabulary or sophistication to describe it precisely.
The opening and title track defines the samey songs. 8/10
This song is so squarely aimed at a demographic I'm not in, I feel a little strange enjoying it so much. But what am I to do? Often, when it's playing in my head, my brain switches to Listen to What the Man Said at the end of the chorus, at the start of the next G chord. One lyrical aspect I find interesting is the slow, drawn-out 'gonna'. 10/10
Great song, great key change. 9.6/10
One of the samey songs. 7.5/10
There's a piano bit in this song that's the same as in Bruce Springsteen's New York City Serenade, or at least recent-ish live versions thereof: comparison. 8/10
You Belong With Me
There must have been a day when I actually heard the opening lyrics for the first time, but by then I was so hooked on the chorus that I just rolled with it. 9.5/10
Samey song? 8/10
Tell Me Why
You’re Not Sorry
Has piano, gets my approval. 8.3/10
The Way I Loved You
Samey song? A lyrical point: the rhyme (such as it is) for the line 'All my single friends are jealous' is 'I couldn't ask for anything better', and the 'better' comes half a beat later than expected. It works; just a moment of small tension, quickly resolved. 7/10
Forever & Always
Samey song? 7/10
The Best Day
😭😭😭 My rating scale is calibrated so that only the top 17 songs are at or above 9; that is the rule and I cannot change it. 8.9/10
And we'll sing Halleluuuujaaaa-aaaa-aaaa-aaaah. 8.7/10
Mean ± MAD: 8.3 ± 0.8
Holistic score: 7.5
Speak NowThis album's up and down, but the ups are high.
There are some nice harmonies in the Hold on lines in the final 40 seconds. 7/10
Drop everything now. 9.4/10
Back to December
Just top-notch. 10/10
It's a little surprising that she named the album after this. You wish it was me, don't you. 8/10
John Mayer changing chess rules, SMH. The lyrical device of using a word soon followed by its opposite – a device which tickles my brain – is employed in the opening line, Long were the nights when my days once revolved around you. 9.2/10
In my occasional skimming of other people's lists, this song is routinely rated highly, but the mean just falls flat for me; packs no emotional punch at all. 6.5/10
The Story of Us
Next chapter. 6.5/10
Never Grow Up
About 20 seconds from the end, there's a bit of static in the left audio channel. 8/10
I really like the way the Please don't be in love with someone else bit plays low in the right channel and then gets repeated high in the left channel. 8.5/10
Better Than Revenge
I love the chorus enough to have tried my hand at editing the song in Audacity and tuneR so that it ends in a fade-out. My ear detects one slight slip in the re-cut track (the two other cut points being unnoticeable), but the extra choruses make it worthy enough to put my edit in my Rhythmbox playlist. At first it felt like I was trespassing on Taylor's artistic integrity to put a different version of her song into the album folder, but I'm fine with it now. 9/10 (original), 9.1/10 (my edit)
Just another great song to round out the album. 9.1/10
Mean ± MAD: 8.1 ± 1.1
Holistic score: 9
RedI bought Red a day after listening to 1989, and I liked it from the get-go. It remains my favourite Swift album.
State Of Grace
I like every track on Red, and it opens with this incredibly solid bit of pop rock. A bit of the production that I like starts 36 seconds from the end, when the chorus, somewhat sythesised(? I don't know the right word) starts playing faintly in the background of the right audio channel. 9/10
Weakest track on the album? Just takes a bit to get going. 7/10
I Knew You Were Trouble
Once upon a time, a few mistakes ago is a good opening line. And when I fell hard, you took a step back / Without me is also a good line with a nice little play on words. The goat video was the first time I'd posted about Taylor Swift on Facebook. In my head I'd had the idea that the three Max-Martin-and-Shellback songs were the weakest and least interesting part of this album, but I've changed my mind. 8/10
All Too Well
All Too Well is a contender for my favourite song of all time, and it's certainly my favourite Swift song. Your mother's telling stories about you on the tee-ball team / You told me about your past thinking your future was me is a good line that uses the word-and-its-opposite device. The bridge is great. You call me up again just to break me like a promise is a nice little play on words. The subsequent ebb and flow is magnificent. But you keep my old scarf form that very first week / 'Cos it reminds you of innocence and it smells like me.
I recently saw a comment on Reddit saying that All Too Well is "by far a fan favorite". I gradually reached the same opinion independently of the fandom, which makes me want to believe that there's some objective sense in which this is Taylor's best song.
But I have trouble formalising the idea. My best try is that, in a sort of reflective equilibrium reached after listening closely to many Taylor Swift songs, a plurality of people in the relevant cultures and demographics will decide that All Too Well is their favourite. This framing shows the whole process as as much about the commonalities of Taylor Swift fans as about the inherent quality of the song itself, and perhaps it should have been obvious that the two are inextricably linked. 11/10
I can't quite take the opening lines seriously, but this has the best Martin/Shellback chorus on the album. 8/10
I Almost Do
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
I heard this song when it was released and was not encouraged to buy the album, but my enjoyment of the rest of the latter since 2014 means that I've ended up listening to it a lot, and there's a fun pop song underneath the lyrics. And you would hide away and find your peace of mind / With some indie record that's much cooler than mine. 7.5/10
Stay Stay Stay
I enjoy the sibilance in one of the overlaid tracks in the right channel near the end. 7.5/10
The Last Time
Sad Beautiful Tragic
The Lucky One
Now it’s big black cars and Riviera views / And your lover in the foyer doesn't even know you.... / They say you bought a bunch of land somewhere / Chose the rose garden over Madison Square. 8/10
Everything Has Changed
Happy chorus. 8.4/10
You said you never met one girl who / Had as many James Taylor records as you / But I do. Here's a video of James Taylor and Taylor Swift singing Fire and Rain. 9.5/10
Mean ± MAD: 8.2 ± 0.7
Holistic score: 10
1989Where it all began! I may have felt like I'd been duped by hype machine, but I genuinely enjoyed the way half my Twitter feed came together to talk about Taylor Swift for a while, and it was fun to be a part of it. By 2017 published and tweeted opinions on the singer had become viciously polarised on political grounds, but 2014 was a more joyous time.
Welcome To New York
Every now and then I play 1989 start to finish, just to see if my brain has clicked in to this bland modern pop that wasn't released in the 1990's. It has not. 4.5/10
I loved this song from the first drum beat (is it gated reverb?). It was also the gateway to this LJ post, written several years later, and that is something. 10/10
Out Of The Woods
I think of this song as distilling pure pop – repetition of a phrase over a chord progression; this one works. 8/10
All You Had To Do Was Stay
Shake It Off
Blaaaaaaand. Its ubiquity in 2014-15 didn't manage to make me actively like it, but I do tolerate it better than I did at first. 5/10
I Wish You Would
You know there is actually some decent pop on this album. But when the song's over, I'll forget it quickly again. 7/10
🤔 A curious mix of catchy hooks and... meh. 7/10
Say you'll see me a-gain has a mis-stressed syllable. 8/10
How You Get the Girl
At times, I've had a lot of earwax deep in my ears (occasionally to the point of blocking an ear entirely, at which point I take myself to the doctor), and my wild guess is that something in the frequencies of this song is resonant with the wax, because every time it plays into my headphones, my left ear does this sort-of popping thing; I don't know how to describe it. I think there are other songs that do this as well, but I've never made a note of them. If I swap the left and right channels, it's still only my left ear that "pops", but it pops much less frequently. 8/10
I Know Places
Mean ± MAD: 6.9 ± 1.0
Holistic score: 6
I didn't buy this album, not wishing to incentivise the production of songs like the first couple of singles. Sometime recently I learned that UMG had put all of the Reputation songs on YouTube and had also helpfully made them into a playlist. I listened to it hoping that the album songs might be better than the singles, but there's not much there.
...Ready for It?
The chorus is a good pre-chorus; where I expect some rousing chorus to follow, there's only the let-down of the Are you ready for it? and that ghastly bass noise. Let the games begin has a mis-stressed syllable. 4.5/10
I Did Something Bad
Why does the sound go in and out? Promising verses, bad chorus. [pigeon meme] Is this modern pop? They're burning all the witches even if is delivered staccato, with equal stress on each syllable, which is one of the more interesting things about this album. 3.5/10
Don't Blame Me
Unpromising verses, great chorus; an inversion of the Reputation formula. 8/10
Handsome, you're a mansion with a view has a mis-stressed syllable. 7/10
Look What You Made Me Do
The (great) end of the video can't rescue that woeful chorus. 3.5/10
So It Goes...
Basically I don't like a lot of choruses on Reputation. On the plus side, seeing this title again while editing has reminded me of the Billy Joel song. 4/10
In amongst this wasteland, a great pop song that perfectly hits my music tastes. The 'met me' in the first two 'first met me's is wondrous, and my only complaint is that Swift slightly elongated the short vowel on its final repetition. 10/10
King of My Heart
This starts so well, but quickly dashes my briefly high expectations. 4.5/10
Dancing with Our Hands Tied
I don't like the chorus. 4/10
This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
This is fun in a similar way to We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, and it makes sense to me that Taylor's mashing them up for the Reputation tour. 7/10
Call It What You Want
New Year's Day
No doubt it's a terrific communal moment when she sings this in concert. It ends in a fade-out! 8/10
Mean ± MAD: 5.8 ± 1.7
Holistic score: 4