Taylor Swift finds herself at a crossroads with 'Reputation'

PHOTO: Taylor Swift performs at the DIRECTV NOW Super Saturday Night Concert in Houston, Feb. 3, 2017. PlayJohn Salangsang/Invision/AP
WATCH Taylor Swift debuts her latest single and releases 'Reputation'

Taylor Swift’s “Reputation”
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“Reputation,” Taylor Swift’s follow-up to her blockbuster “1989” is a risky, self-aware maneuver that sometimes works and sometimes backfires. It opens with the awesome fireball venom of “… Ready for It?” which pairs a sleek energy with some slight hip-hop/reggae posturing.

However, the next track, “End Game,” featuring Future and Ed Sheeran, isn’t as noteworthy. When Swift repeats the words, “Big reputation. / Big reputation / Ooh, you and me we got big reputations," you'll wince.

PHOTO: This cover image released by Big Machine shows art for Taylor Swifts upcoming album, reputation, expected Nov. 10, 2017.Big Machine via AP
This cover image released by Big Machine shows art for Taylor Swift's upcoming album, "reputation," expected Nov. 10, 2017.

“Look What You Made Me Do” may have made a big splash at first, but its Right Said Fred nods and its lack of a decent hook make it ultimately fall flat. Swift does herself no favors by referring to herself in the third person occasionally in her lyrics, or when she sings “I never trust a narcissist, but they love me" in “I Did Something Bad."

The digitized sheen on this record also doesn’t always go over well. “Delicate” would be much more ear-catching if it didn’t have that vocoder effect on her vocals. Later, that digital haze on “So It Goes” works to add a sense of mystery, so it is a case-by-case basis.

Still, “Reputation” is admirable for taking big swings even when it misses. It massively rewrites Swift’s rule book. You have to hand it to her for ripping up her country-pop past completely in favor of skittering, sometimes neon-hued electro-pop.

“Gorgeous,” for instance, pairs the talking diary-entry quality of her older work and pairs it with the new backdrop well. The same can be said for “Getaway Car” and the beautiful “Call It What You Want.” What makes this album worth a recommendation is the second half where Swift finds better balance. That being said, the charging deep bass punctuation on “King of My Heart” may take a few listens to win you over, even if sonically speaking it is a challenging, innovative groove.

Swift still occasionally sings with a transparent, “oh gee” kind of innocence and that no longer really suits her, when you consider the seething anger beneath “Look What You Made Me Do” and the sexual awakening of “Dress,” but whether this album sometimes leaves you questioning the authenticity of Swift’s tone or not, it still is a compelling set that is enjoyable to dissect.

“Reputation” finds Swift at a crossroads as she experiments with new sounds. Her growing pains are outwardly evident. The high school confession energy to her lyrics has long been a big part of her appeal to many. As she matures, that quality is becoming tired. Swift is wrestling with her own growth as a performer and a writer. You can say a lot about “Reputation,” but it is definitely not boring. It’s alternately both impressively dynamic and frustratingly difficult.

Welcome to Taylor Swift’s futuristic, digital bonfire. Be careful you aren’t singed by stray ashes.

Focus Tracks:

“…Ready for It?” This brings the house down instantly even if it sounds like Swift is aiming for Rihanna and Nicki Minaj territory. Against all odds, she is able to sell this vibe here, partly because the chorus is one of the most tuneful and bending hooks on the record. This is a banger from a very surprising source.

“Call It What You Want” This is a lush ballad anchored by a soft, chilled vocal delivery and a beat that occasionally finds power in its drumbeat accents. This deserves to be a huge hit. It isn’t overstated and it plays right to Swift’s strengths in all the best ways.

“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” This has a bit of upbeat tripping quality to its beat. When the rhythm slows for the chorus, it adds power. This almost feels like a lost '80s pop hit. It also really holds up on repeat listens.

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