Taylor Swift
The Tortured Poets Department (Anthology)


4.5
superb

Review

by Sowing STAFF
April 21st, 2024 | 240 replies


Release Date: 04/19/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The future's bright, dazzling

Few artists in history have found themselves in the position that Taylor Swift was leading up to the release of The Tortured Poets Department. Following the commercial and critical successes of folklore and Midnights, which elevated her career to even more stratospheric heights, she then engaged in her worldwide Eras tour, which literally swayed national economies while expanding upon her massive audience. While doing this, she also became the talk of the NFL (of all places) by publicly dating Kansas City star tight end Travis Kelce. To put all of this in perspective, she was already the biggest pop star in the world before any of this occurred. As a result, Swift needed almost nothing in the way of official promotion for The Tortured Poets Department just to have it still end up being the most highly anticipated album in recent memory, as evidenced by her eight second video of static that immediately shot to the top of iTunes’ charts. Has a musician ever achieved fame this ludicrous before? Is this how it would have looked if modern technology and streaming services existed back when the Beatles were still dropping albums? Needless to say, Swift was going to break initial streaming/sales records with this LP almost regardless of its quality, which seems like a bad thing on the surface until you realize that she’s only in that position because she’s been one of the best artists, marketers, and businesswomen for the past decade and a half.

As if the public exposure from the past few years wasn’t enough, The Tortured Poets Department ended up being a thirty-one track double album with a runtime in excess of two hours. If that sounds like a nightmare, it’s because ninety-nine (point nine) percent of artists could not, and historically have not, effectively pulled this sort of thing off – especially when you factor in that the musical aesthetic is overtly slow and markedly similar across the board. But there’s a reason other voices have come and gone while Taylor’s has become the defining one of her generation: she’s a truly exceptional songwriter and lyricist. Even if you strip away the role that everything from her marketing team to her status as a cultural icon undeniably plays in her success, the truth is that all of that would be slowly eroding if there wasn’t an excellent foundation of music at the center. With each new album she releases, there’s something worth exploring. Even Midnights, which was musically uneventful compared to the majority of her banger-rich discography, won longtime listeners over with its brilliant lyricism. Where else has she written something as vulnerable as “I hosted parties and starved my body / Like I'd be saved by a perfect kiss”, or as potently sad as "There's many different ways that you can kill the one you love / The slowest way is never loving them enough"? Even if her actual music is stagnating (an argument that could be made with TTPD marking her fourth straight downtempo release), Swift is still an especially sharp penwoman who is only becoming more eloquent with age. On the heels of two breakups, one a particularly stinging fallout after six years, The Tortured Poets Department couldn’t have been a 1989 or Reputation redux and felt genuine. She needed a soft place to land where she could heal but also exorcise demons. Swift has seemed superhuman for so long that it’s easy to forget that she actually is one, and The Tortured Poets Department finds her in the most emotionally-charged moment of her entire career.

Dating back to Speak Now, Taylor Swift has always wrapped her music in a theme that befits the music on display. Here, the imagery is once again clear: a heartbroken artist, slavishly working on her music to avoid being consumed by darkness and depression. Everything from the album’s artwork/overall stylization to the way she portrays herself as maniacal lends itself to the overarching theme, and it all helps to lift The Tortured Poets Department out of lengthier stretches that might otherwise serve as quicksand for listeners' attention spans. Most of it is subtle enough: the way she practically shouts the titular refrain on ‘Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?’, only to follow it with a soft and unsettling whisper of, “you should be”; how unstable synths waver beneath her voice on ‘So Long London’, mirroring how her voice shakes amid recounting the end of her relationship with Joe Alwyn; or the way she elongates her annunciation and exaggerates her inflections on deep cut ‘The Bolter’. There’s a purposely dramatic flair to much of TTPD that could be construed as insincere if it wasn’t intentionally performative. The album’s title alone is enough to get the point across, but Swift ensures that The Tortured Poets Department also sounds the part.

Perhaps most crucially, Swift’s lyricism lives up to expectations while giving listeners new leaves to turn over with each recurring visit. Yes, there are still the occasional misfires like the hilariously bad “You smokеd, then ate seven bars of chocolate / We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist / I scratch your head, you fall asleep / Like a tattooed golden retriever”, and there’s no escaping the fact that these types of lines will go viral because of just how meme-worthy they are, but they are the rare exceptions not the rule. Most of The Tortured Poets Department resides in thoughtful solitude, painful regret, and behind-the-scenes storytelling that showcases her knack for delivering clever and instantly memorable lines that do not need to overreach for depth. Take the aforementioned ‘So Long London’ and how she sings, “You say I abandoned the ship, but I was going down with it” in reference to her six years with Alwyn, adding even more bitterly, “I'm pissed off you let me give you all that youth for free.” On the piano-underscored and string-swept ‘Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus’, she adds another brilliant one-liner with, “If you wanna break my cold, cold heart / Just say, ‘I loved you the way that you were’" – which is illustrative of just how painful it can be when two otherwise in-love people grow apart. On the gorgeous acoustic number ‘The Prophecy’, she sings of how empty her wealth feels without companionship: “A greater woman wouldn't beg, but I looked to the sky and said / Please, I've been on my knees / Change the prophecy / Don't want money / Just someone who wants my company”. Even the title track – which has the undesirable distinction of containing that golden retriever line – also bestows us with “At dinner, you take my ring off my middle finger, and put it on the one people put wedding rings on / And that's the closest I've come to my heart exploding.” It’s clear from lines such as these that Swift feels more than fulfilled in terms of money/fame and wants to feel something real again– she's had it in spurts, but a sense of permanent belonging has been evasive.

The Tortured Poets Department is a complex album to even perceive because there is an oversaturation of surrounding context. If you whittle it straight down to what matters, however – the music and the lyrics – it’s an excellent record despite its tremendous length and monotonous tempo (discounting ‘I Can Do It With a Broken Heart' here, which is an absolute bop). There are beautiful instrumental accents and interesting production flourishes throughout, and Swift continues to illustrate lyrical growth even though it has always been her strong suit. Aesthetically, it sounds like a cross between folklore and Midnights, and feels like an improvement over the latter because it is more focused and cohesive. One thing about Swift’s entire discography is that her albums all tend to age well. Even records that initially seemed a little too eclectic (Red), disingenuous (Reputation), or sleepy (Midnights) all ended up carving out their own essential niche once the lyrics sunk in and the melodies took hold. The Tortured Poets Department already feels essential. I’m not sure what that means for the album’s long-term outlook, but it seems like another defining moment akin to 1989’s pop breakout or folklore’s transition into stripped-down acoustics. TTPD is less of a sonic transformation and more of an emotional one. Swift seems to look at this record as the closing of an entire series of chapters in her life, and the future is uncertain. On the standard (non-Anthology) portion of the album’s curtain-call, ‘Clara Bow’, Swift seems to acknowledge that she has evolved from the up-and-comer ("You look like Clara Bow / In this light, remarkable / All your life, did you know / You'd be picked like a rose?”) to the one who will eventually be replaced. The final line of the song comes from the perspective of a talent appraiser or fan, who is admiring a young star: “You look like Taylor Swift / In this light, we're lovin' it / You've got edge, she never did / The future's bright, dazzling.” And with that, the album ends. It’s a brilliant conclusion to a piece that dramatizes and memorializes Swift’s career, all at once lending it context and even some levity. No matter what happens in our lives – love, drama, heart-stopping pain – it’s just temporary. Perhaps the best thing we can do is write it all down.



Recent reviews by this author
Bayside There Are Worse Things Than Being AliveAaron West and The Roaring Twenties In Lieu of Flowers
Vampire Weekend Only God Was Above UsSum 41 Heaven :x: Hell
Wild Pink Strawberry EraserWaxahatchee Tigers Blood
user ratings (77)
2.3
average
other reviews of this album
Dakota West Foss STAFF (0.5)
The Tortured Tummy Defartment...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Slex
April 21st 2024


16668 Comments


Bro come on

pizzamachine
April 21st 2024


27351 Comments




Colton
April 21st 2024


15436 Comments


the king has spoken

Odal
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2024


2226 Comments

Album Rating: 0.5

Sowing, no!

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2024


5980 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Johnny, where art thou?

Futures
April 21st 2024


11114 Comments


uh oh

ThyCrossAwaits
April 21st 2024


4008 Comments


Gag me with a fork

Butkuiss
April 21st 2024


7224 Comments


Well this is a surprise

vult
April 21st 2024


2378 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

Oh boy



The most 2.8 album of all time but since it’s 130 minutes it gets docked to hell

Koris
Staff Reviewer
April 21st 2024


21301 Comments

Album Rating: 2.7

Interesting...

Sevengill
April 21st 2024


12174 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

gf and I browsed through this and it was like the same three songs over and over. the ones that sounded like "Can't Help Falling In Love" by Haley Reinhardt were tolerable, the rest were so saccharine we just Thank U, Next

FowlKrietzsche
April 21st 2024


1187 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Most predictable Sowing 4.5

Prancer
April 21st 2024


1619 Comments


are yall rating this actually listening to 2 hours of taylor swift

ThyCrossAwaits
April 21st 2024


4008 Comments


True a 4.5 from Sowing is basically like a 2

ThyCrossAwaits
April 21st 2024


4008 Comments


I wouldn’t hate this so much if it wasn’t faker than small talk

She’s very publicly attached to Travis Kelce yet literally every single song on here is about some vague “he” and being left and stormy relationships and blah blah blah. She’s “changed” several times but has never once shown a single ounce of growth. Even the way she talks about the album in promo material is so vague and cliché, and seriously it just hurts my brain to entertain any of her bullshit anymore.

Trebor.
Emeritus
April 21st 2024


59903 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

lol

Wildcardbitchesss
April 21st 2024


12391 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

haha go off sowing

Sevengill
April 21st 2024


12174 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art." - Taylor Swift on pulling her music from Spotify in 2017

Today she set the record for Spotify streams in a day 😊

caninecommander
April 21st 2024


9 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

lol no

Cygnatti
April 21st 2024


36071 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

Talking to a swiftie about Swift lore made me actively dislike her more, unfortunately.



You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2023 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy