Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department - Album Review

Taylor Swift: The Tortured Poets Department - Album Review


Posted 2024-04-19 by Steven Gfollow
Well, this was not something I was ready for. I have enjoyed Swift’s albums for a few years, and had folklore as one of my best albums of that year, ‘exile’ being my favourite song of 2020. Midnights was a little more pop sensitive, and that was fine.

The Tortured Poets Department mixes the two of them together – the sparse folk sound and a pop production. But the production is turned down. Drum machines and synths dominate, giving a faux-1980s feel to some of the tracks, and yet not overdoing anything.

Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poets Department' album art. PHOTO: BETH GARRABRANT

But, more than anything, this is an album about songwriting, especially lyric writing. I am guessing that a few of the songs are based on her reality, but they are told with that excellent story-telling manner she demonstrated on folklore. These are some amazing lyrics; the word “poet” in the title is well-deserved. The lyrics go above and beyond the standard pop fluff we are presented with from most artists, and the fact she co-wrote all of the tracks shows where the talent lies.

Swift does not go for a safe route here. This was released while her Eras tour is still pushing along, and yet it is a new way of presenting her music. She continues to take chances with her releases, when playing it safe would be the option the vast majority of pop starlets would take.

But I will say it again - this is an album of lyrics. As a writer, I appreciate the lyrics of songs, and in this album, the words she chose were so perfect. I am not completely aware of the ins and outs of her private life - I don’t use social media – and yet this collection made me think I had some knowledge.

I will say, there is not a bad song here. I am not sure how this will go with some of her older fans, but she is evolving as an artist and that is so good to see. This is a slower album. I have heard it described as meditative, and that is a good word to use. It demands you listen to what is being said; this is not an album to put on in the background.

If there is one negative, I would say it is maybe a little too long. As I said, not a bad track, but it did feel like it was a touch long, and that was the standard version, which I received as a digital download; my special edition CD (the Manuscript version) is still in the mail, and that adds another song to the playlist.

There are 16 tracks on the standard album, and so I am going to list some of my favourites here:

Fortnight’ (featuring Post Malone)
I am not a fan of Post Malone’s music, but he settles in nicely here as one of only two guest performers on the album. I am not going to guess (or Google) what this song is about, but as an album opener, it sets the tone for what is to come and does a good job of it. The pounding, sparse music in the background suits the near-staccato delivery. There is a breathless quality about the singing which adds to the emotion. Strong opener.
Sample lyrics: “But you're the reason/ And no one here's to blame/ But what about your quiet treason?

The Tortured Poets Department
One of my two favourite tracks on the album, this song just has some of the best lyrical lines on the album. There is a certain playfulness about the track, though it is somewhat depressing, showing two people drifting apart. The music has a very 80s feel to it, especially that drum-line. The chorus is one of the most sing-along-able on the album as well; Dylan Thomas and Patti Smith? Would Swift’s audience even know who they are? Well, if it makes people seek out their poetry/music, then all the better.
Sample lyrics: I wanted to put the whole album’s lyrics down here, but decided on, “You left your typewriter at my apartment/ Straight from the tortured poets department/ I think some things I never say/ "Like who uses typewriters anyway?"” (the opening lines)

So Long, London
This song is obviously a break-up song, Swift and an Englishman (even I know about her dating some British actor) parting ways. But the music helps here as well, with a strong synth wash behind the lyrics. The opening with the choral effect of Taylor’s voice is a stunning way to begin the song, and the bouncy music stands in contrast to the desperation of the song, the end of a romance. Another one with a touch of the 1980s to it. Is that why I am gravitating to these tracks?
Sample lyrics: “And you say I abandoned the ship/ But I was going down with it/ My white knuckle dying grip/ Holding tight to your quiet resentment

Florida!!!’ (featuring Florence and the Machine)
The second track with a guest artist, and the second of my favourite two tracks on the collection. This is the most instrument-heavy track on the album, and Florence Welch’s voice works so well with Swift’s throughout the song. The chorus is short, but it is certainly one that I can imagine being bellowed at a concert by 10,000 screaming fans.
Sample lyrics: “Barricaded in the bathroom with a bottle of wine/ Well, me and my ghosts, we had a hell of a time

Who’s Afraid Of Little Old Me
There is another dose of heavier instrumentation here, and with lyrics telling the person being addressed that Swift uses her songs as weapons, this is an angry song, and it comes across that way with the build of music and the defiant scream of the song’s title… followed by the quieter add-on. This track just sounds so strong.
Sample lyrics: “Crash the party like a record scratch as I scream/ "Who’s afraid of little old me?"/ You should be” (What a metaphor!)

I Can Do It With A Broken Heart
A Eurythmics synth line, counting in the background to kick things on, lyrics and delivery that reminds me of ‘Blank Space’ – this song is a strange mix of self-awareness and snarkiness. It has a different sound from the rest of the album, and I think that’s why it stands out like it does. This is the poppiest song on the album but does not feel like it doesn’t belong.
Sample lyrics: “I'm so depressed, I act like it's my birthday every day/ I'm so obsessed with him, but he avoids me like the plague

Clara Bow
The album’s closer is a song about a person who wants to leave the small town and hit the heights. Is it about Swift or the titular Clara or both? It’s delivered in a breathy style, as though she’s run out of puff at the end of a marathon of singing. There is some self-reference here, but it’s not narcissistic. An interesting way to close the album.
Sample lyrics:”Beauty is a beast that roars down on all fours demanding more

Seven of the best tracks from another really good collection by Taylor Swift. The way she does not rest on her laurels and strives to make her music different is one of the main things that sets her apart from other pop performers of the modern age. The other is her song-writing.

This is a beautiful album and is well worth the time to invest and immerse oneself in completely.

Thoroughly recommended, and not just for Swift’s fans.
283768 - 2024-04-19 06:49:02


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