Let’s be honest, who was really expecting Reputation to be great? After the lead single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” was dropped onto the music community like a badly constructed bomb, many were wondering if Swift’s affluence for revenge finally got the better of her. And like a person with a bitter axe to grind, Reputation is, for the most part, an unfocused mess.
However, let us remember that this is the woman who wrote the fantastic 1989, a pop album that redefined current trends, so even a rickety album like this has some shining moments. Take the opener “….Ready For It?” for example. At one moment Swift is belting out some atrocious rapping led by some of the thinnest beats pop has to offer, and during the next minute, the track switches to one of Swift’s best choruses yet. As a summary of the album, “….Ready For It?” is almost too good at showing the listener where the album will go. The disastrous moments of that song overwhelm the follow-up track, “End Game,” where Future’s pointless lyrics and Ed Sheeran’s rapping completely throw it off track. Swift’s chorus is also devoid of anything even remotely engaging. And then we get “I Did Something Bad,” which, outside of its ghastly title, is quite fine from a musical standpoint. The chorus is a dark, mischevious, and booming highlight you can’t help but headbang along to.
If I could paint an analogy around Reputation it would be the kid who thinks he can create something great with nothing more than adhesive tape and bits and pieces of other already made materials. “Don’t Blame Me” comes off as a weaker imitation of Hoizer’s “Take Me To Church” and “Look What You Made Me Do” is a bizarre hodge-podge of genius ideas and confusing style choices. To cap off Reputation’s worst moments is “So It Goes….” It’s a terribly bland offering that samples everything bad about modern pop but still sounds like a hollow representation of even that. “Delicate” is the best thing about the album’s first half. Its beautifully slow, ambient drive is a much-needed break from the unpleasant tracks around it.
On the other hand, the second half of Reputation is actually quite good. “Gorgeous” was met with a lukewarm reception at release but over time it’s become a song I enjoy quite a bit. It has a fun peppy beat and it isn’t disjointed like everything before it. “Getaway Car” is another highlight, harkening back to the open air 80s sound that made 1989 so good, and it’s carefree lyrics reflect that. “You were drivin’ the getaway car / We were flyin’, but we never get far / Don’t pretend it’s such a mystery / Think about the place where you first met me / Ridin’ in a getaway car.”
“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” is the kind of song I can picture myself hearing during a night out with good friends. It has a throbbing chorus that sounds, ironically enough, like a Nightcore tune. “Dress” and closer “New Year’s Day” are additional cuts worth a mention. The latter song, in particular, is a nice throwback to Swift’s singer/songwriter sound. It’s a surprise inclusion for sure and I’d love to hear it come back on future releases. If “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” a tongue and cheek dig at Kanye West with a hook that sticks out like a clown in a high-class business conference, and the inoffensively boring “Call It What You Want,” weren’t present, the back half of this album would be a complete turn around from its first.
I will say Reputation exceeded expectations. When it isn’t playing around with the toys of other artists it’s making good to great songs. The problem is it’s just too distracted by everything it sees around it to truly set time aside to craft its own material. It wants the R&B prevalent in modern pop, the rootsy sound of Hoizer and Avicii, the booming EDM, and the 80s aesthetic of her last record. There simply isn’t any time to completely dedicate herself to one sound and arguably perfect it like she did on her last project. Lyrically, Swift draws from personal experience, but it isn’t the type of experience the listener can draw any inspiration or thought from. It’s filled with mischief, romance, and personal digs, and as someone who cares little for personal drama, I didn’t get a whole lot out of this. To be fair, 1989 wasn’t a lot better, but it was vague enough to not have to rely on outside information to understand the point of it.
I want to say I’m torn between liking this album and abhorring it, but I can’t. The first half has a few atrocious numbers but overall its greatest offence is that it’s slightly boring. Even the highlights sit below her strongest material and they don’t age too well with repeated listens. Reputation isn’t the worst album I’ve heard this year (Sleeping With Sirens and Imagine Dragons already own that dishonour) but neither will it be remembered a year or two down the road.
3.5/5 (Updated 08/03/18)