Taylor Swift
The Tortured Poets Department (Anthology)


0.5

Review

by Dakota West Foss STAFF
April 22nd, 2024 | 99 replies


Release Date: 04/19/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Tortured Tummy Defartment

“Enchanted” is probably my favorite Taylor Swift song. It works for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the youthful, raw energy that permeates the track. Images of pacing back and forth are brought to biblical levels, turning a simple crush into life-and-death stakes with an instrumental break that gives the kindling of drama the oxygen necessary to become a full-blown inferno. The climactic plea of “please don’t be in love with someone else/please don’t have somebody waiting on you” is about as vulnerable a prayer as one can muster, and sold with the conviction of someone holding apocalyptic proclamations on a cardboard sign. Confessional, honest, anonymous, but universal. I’m sure there’s plenty of lore to connect the dots on who Taylor penned that song for, but it’s unnecessary. I'm a man in his 30’s, but I can pine and yearn like the starriest-eyed teenage girl when I hit play on that track. It rules. It’s also not on an island. You could reasonably list off probably twenty or so Swift songs to proclaim as the Best Thing Ever, and I’d hear you out. There’s a reason why Taylor became a star.

But all stars burn out and die, given a long enough timeline, and The Tortured Poets Department Anthology feels just like that, if it feels like anything at all. The cracks began to show on 2022’s Midnights, which saw Swift make a similar jump as she did nearly a decade ago when she had left her country upbringing into full-on pop. The transformation this time, however, was from pop to capital-T, capital-S: Taylor Swift. I don’t know what else you would call it. No longer is she concerned with capturing a universal feeling and catchy choruses that conjure the magic necessary to turn household objects into microphones. Instead, Taylor opts for interchangeable melodies that never really threaten to take attention away from the lyrics, which function more as tabloid clarification than earnest poetry. I struggle to hum a single melody but, against my will, I can make an educated guess as to what song is a Matty Song or a Travis Song or a Joe song (Karlie truthers, it’s 2024, time to move on!). We are made to dance in the shadows of Swift’s memories in her music now instead of creating our own. This is the design of a singer who has transcended this mortal realm, becoming a brand unto herself. Each song functions as a Marvel movie’s post-credits sequence: always teasing, never arriving.

And boy, do we never arrive. The thirty-one tracks on offer read like a joke that the most militant Swift-denier would cook up. That number is not a typo, and neither are song titles like “But Daddy I love Him”, “Florida!!!” (with three exclamation points), and “loml” -which, “cleverly” stands for both ‘love’ and ‘loss’ of my life. The two-hour long punchline is that Swift is actually in on the joke. The zany titles and lines like “touch me while your bros play Grand Theft Auto” are merely an act, you see, to illustrate how much of a mastermind she has always been and always will be. Everything here is caked in so much self-aware irony that meaning ceases to be. There’s enough plausible deniability to placate the non-existent bar of her feverish devotees, but everyone else will strain for meaning when they are met with an imperceivable lyric like “But you told Lucy you’d kill yourself if I ever leave/And I said that to Jack about you, so I felt seen.” One may as well be crooning “WWG1WGA”, and many Swifties might.


Swift’s storytelling has always been her superpower, but The Tortured Poets Department finds her trapped by her own mythmaking ability. In the past, she’s been able to make her impossibly lavish exploits seem immediately tangible. Not everyone can use a private jet to correspond with an international lover, for example, but drinking out of plastic cups with a school girl crush is pretty manageable (“King of My Heart on 2017’s Reputation). Now she’s singing about being raised in an asylum. What happened to the girl in the bleachers? Well, she became the billionaire with The Bleachers. Crucially, this iteration of Taylor is just as incapable of “Love Story” as she is “Thug Story.” Her new brand of storytelling introduces Dragonball Z-esque powerscaling, with every character brandishing impossible levels of charm, wit, loss, and joy at all times so as to render them useless. At times, Taylor is a bit too content with herself. “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” Certainly not the student being sued for sharing public flight records. Track 5’s are typically reserved for Taylor’s most emotional songs, but on here she’s half-heartedly bidding adieu to her British boyfriend of six years with some of her most lifeless metaphors to date, and we’re all just forced to watch (“So long, London/Stitches undone”; “And you say I abandoned the ship/But I was going down with it”).

Suffocating specificity isn’t the only issue with Taylor’s lyricism, however, as she has seemingly lost the ability to rattle off any line without some sort of issue cropping up. Simple concepts crumble under wordiness and tweet-inducing shock, sprinkled with the care of using the wrong side of a salt shaker. For instance, she can’t simply question if the object of her affection is a spy sent to betray her, she has to say “sleeper cell spy.’ She can’t merely say “nobody” on the title track to get her point across, she has to once again tap into the rebellion displayed on “Vigilante ***” and hurriedly say “no-fucking-body”; it’s as if she is trying to demonstrate how much she doesn’t care about being family friendly anymore while being careful enough not to linger on danger too much for it to become palpable. There’s that plausible deniability again. I mean, what do you even make of some of these passages? For instance:

You smoked, 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

Perhaps I am cynical, but I suspect that I’m supposed to gawk at that line, and those that have ignored their Seroquel refill are meant to rejoice in its absurdity. Either way, a share’s a share on the internet. Perhaps we are all tattooed golden retriever’s in god’s hot car during this quarter of the attention economy. Nobody has ever uttered the phrase “I touched you for only a fortnight.” I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I just don’t see enough backlash for “He jokes that it’s heroin, but this time with an ‘E.’”

Musically, the two sides of The Tortured Poets Department are made distinct by which collaborator takes the helm. The first half belongs to Jack Antonoff, who continues to flounder as he did on the self-titled Bleachers album (released earlier this year), by once again checking the empty fridge of his arpeggiated synthpop melodies to see if there’s food. There’s not. Aaron Dessner does marginally better on the second half as he swaps out synthpads for piano ballads, bringing to mind the last few records from The National, issues included. Taylor previously found a lot of success in this stripped back sound on Folklore and Evermore, but here it’s ultimately a case of too little, too late. Any individual song might be a nice reprieve on a more manageable album, yet they form a homogenous blob when linked together that will give even the most ardent supporter pause when trying to recall anything about them.

That’s by design, of course, as the project is clearly not intended to be consumed in one go. This is an album that takes a page from the playlist-ification of today’s hip-hop scene and stretches it as far as pocketbooks will allow. There are so many vinyl variants and songs with overlapping subject matters and tempos and chord structures, that you can essentially craft the version of events that suits you best. Why have a single album for a new Taylor Swift era when you can instead have a Taylor Swift album for every man, woman, and child? It circles back, again, to the plausible deniability that permeates every facet of its design by making sure everyone can have an angle with which to approach the album from; the cost, of course, is losing an actual heart at its center. Team Matty, Team Joe, Team Travis, Team Taylor…she’s the one cashing in on all of them.

And that frustrates me a great deal because there are, through all the bull***, some moments that I like. “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” is the lone time where Taylor’s millennial shenanigans (mostly) work, and one of the few stabs at actual pop throughout the herculean runtime. Its pump-up lyrics (“lights, camera, bitch, smile/even when you wanna die”) are relatable, even if us lowly denizens are using this mantra before turning in another shift at the office instead of performing to a sold-out stadium after rockstar-induced heartbreak. The playful dance beat is a radiant splash of color in a sepia-toned sea. “Clara Bow” ends the first half with intriguing and, more importantly, genuine self-reflection that examines the weight of her crown (“You look like Taylor Swift/in this light, we’re lovin’ it/You’ve got edge, she never did/The future’s bright, dazzling”). “The Black Dog” starts the second disc strong with a rousing and raw examination of what it is like to love someone in the throes of depression (and a nifty shoutout to The Starting Line).

Other points of interest have a miniscule half-life that last about as long as it takes to finish reading about them. Florence Welch stops by to give an honest-to-god female feature on “Florida!!!” that breaks the background vocal curse held by her contemporaries, perhaps out of necessity -is there a song in the world powerful enough to contain her like that? The issue is that the song kind of sucks, relegating its power players to a predictable powder keg whose explosion is simply too telegraphed to be showtopping, and ultimately becomes cacophonous noise more akin to an alarm going off from the other room. Swift gives her “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by” moment of chastising her fanbase for being angry at her dating Matty Healy on “But Daddy I Love Him.”* The song is conceptually interesting (“They slammed the door in my whole world/the one thing I wanted”) but executed in a toothless manner. Potential venom subsumes into yet another in-joke(?) for Swifties when she quickly rushes through a chorus that somehow contains a setup, punchline, and crowdwork at the same time: “Now I’m runnin’ with my dress unbuttoned/ Screamin’, ‘But Daddy, I love him, I’m havin’ his baby’ No I’m not, but you should see your faces.” If you could see mine, it would be disgusted. “thanK you aIMee” is a bonafide diss track aimed at Kim Kardashian. It’s seven years late. She’s never winning the “idgaf” war, though it would not surprise me if that was the title of a future song if she stays on this trajectory.

*I cannot stress enough that this information is known to me against my will

…have we finally reached our conclusion? It feels both as if I have said too much and too little when trying to get across how much not only The Tortured Poets Department sucks, but that the ideaof The Tortured Poets Department sucks. The discourse surrounding it and Swift herself seems endless and mandatory and maddening, a constant refrigerator hum of buzzwords and celebrity names. At thirty-one tracks that add up to over two hours of runtime, I can’t do it! I can’t tell you a thing about “Peter” or “Cassandra” or “Robin” or “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus.” I can’t hum a chord progression or tell you a line or even gesture in a general direction of which mid-tempo malaise they aim to capture. There are simply too many minutes to this thing, cloaked in too much pre-requisite knowledge, cloaked in too many layers of non-irony for me to dedicate my life to truly “getting” it.

Maybe, then, I am the tortured poet, longing to put a bow on this and say something snappy like, “She wants to be Lana Del Rey, but she doesn’t have the juice.” While that certainly feels true, I don’t think I will ever be fully confident that that’s completely correct. All I know is that this thirty-something man has an inner teenage girl that used to be spoken to, and she’s begging Taylor not to be in love with someone else while she looks in the mirror.



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2.3
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The future's bright, dazzling...



Comments:Add a Comment 
AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2024


10267 Comments


dang this really yeeted sow’s rev right off the front page top 10 power play

Purpl3Spartan
April 22nd 2024


8693 Comments


Nice review

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2024


60860 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Fuckin S+ we are COOKING

Purpl3Spartan
April 22nd 2024


8693 Comments


Metacritic will not survive us

gabba
April 22nd 2024


1199 Comments


…And Justice for All

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2024


5962 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Wait, did Taylor Swift release an album recently?

Purpl3Spartan
April 22nd 2024


8693 Comments


Last I heard this is not an album

AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2024


10267 Comments


This album is fake album



FowlKrietzsche
April 22nd 2024


1128 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Fantastic review! This line:



Why have a single album for a new Taylor Swift era when you can instead have a Taylor Swift album for every man, woman, and child?



Was especially poignant.

PumpBoffBag
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2024


1586 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

Outstanding review, some effort

Odal
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2024


2200 Comments

Album Rating: 0.5

the real album is the friends we made along the way

deathschool
April 22nd 2024


28682 Comments


Really glad Sputnikmusic is dedicating their front page to featuring 4 different opinions for the same album instead of featuring any other music that could have possibly released within the last month.

gabba
April 22nd 2024


1199 Comments


But at least there are different covers to it. Which one's better I wonder, this one with the headache, or the other one with the lower abdominal pain?

Odal
Staff Reviewer
April 22nd 2024


2200 Comments

Album Rating: 0.5

My summary really would've gone better with the other cover, but it is what it is

nol
April 22nd 2024


12262 Comments


Album Rating: -3.0

“Really glad Sputnikmusic is dedicating their front page to featuring 4 different opinions for the same album instead of featuring any other music that could have possibly released within the last month.“

Johnny’s review was a long time coming, so it’s nice to come back to the album after letting it sit for uhh 22 hours

Cormano
April 22nd 2024


4170 Comments


so glad i got to live long enough to see this frontpage

gabba
April 22nd 2024


1199 Comments


I needed to make a screenshot, it's internet history

"My summary really would've gone better with the other cover, but it is what it is"
indeed, but you can't have it all, this privilege is saved for the one who's suffering

Purpl3Spartan
April 22nd 2024


8693 Comments


Greatest front page ever

AlexKzillion
April 22nd 2024


17431 Comments


WE ARE SO BACK

deathschool
April 22nd 2024


28682 Comments


I hope they are going to welcome the shitposting. They better be able to take it if they can dish it out.



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