Taylor Swift, 1989 - album review: Pop star shows 'promising signs of maturity'

But whether it’s adolescent exaggeration or an attempt to bring more intriguing strategies into pop lyricism is debatable

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The Independent Culture

On 1989, Taylor Swift’s world is a place of stark contrasts, sudden alterations and jarring images, its songs full of attempts to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines.

It’s an all-or-nothing, do-or-die place that perhaps seeks to buy into the Hunger Games worldview: “They are the hunters, we are the foxes,” she claims in “I Know Places”, while in “Out of the Woods”, she offers the evocative comparison of lovers’ colourful Polaroid lives with a world otherwise mired in monochrome.

For Swift, love is thrown into stark relief and shuts out the rest of the world, which lends a certain piquancy to the desperately inclusive electropop grooves and corporate rebel clichés of songs such as “Style” and “Blank Space”.

The best of these is “Shake  It Off”, a sing-song chant about players,  haters and fakers – coming to a playground  near you.

Produced mostly by Max Martin  and Shellback, the settings blend twitchy electro riffs with skeletal, scudding beats and understated guitar parts, with occasional details hinting at 1980s influences: the “O Superman”-style vocal pulse that introduces “How You Get the Girl”, or the “Vienna”-esque synth portents of “Out of the Woods”.

The latter is perhaps the most dramatically jarring song here, with its reference to a car accident requiring “20 stitches in a hospital room”, a theme taken up with her claim in the next track that “you drove us off the road”. It’s a weird, disjunctive clash of imagery, shocking naturalism followed by overstated metaphor.

Whether it’s adolescent exaggeration or an attempt to bring more intriguing strategies into pop lyricism is debatable.

But there’s certainly a new maturity evident in the closing track “Clean”, which finds Swift washing that man right out of her hair in wracked images of torment and turmoil, drought and drowning, and something more besides: “When the butterflies turned to dust, they covered my entire room” is surely the oddest line you’ll hear in pop for a long time.

Read more: Eight seconds of white noise by Taylor Swift tops Canadian iTunes chart