Taylor Swift, “Reputation.” “I’m sorry but the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now,” Taylor Swift sings on “Look What You Made Me Do,” the first single from her “Reputation” album. “Why? Oh ... cause she’s dead.”
Well, maybe not entirely dead -- the acoustic album closer “New Year’s Day,” has some of the old Taylor in it. But, largely, there’s a new Taylor on “Reputation.”
Musically, Swift has abandoned the crossover country and the ‘80s synth pop of her previous records to fully embrace contemporary, R&B/hip-hop-rooted pop.
That translates not only to the beats and instruments, but to her vocals that are now rhythmic and cadence-based rather than melodic.
Lyrically, well, let’s just say Swift won’t be holding a lot of tea parties for her young female fans after “Reputation.” At 27, she’s embracing her sexuality on songs like “Dress,” which is purchased to be taken off, and proudly proclaims “I Did Something Bad.”
There’s a saved-from-her-celebrity-by-a-relationship theme on the softer second half of the record -- those songs mostly produced and written with Jack Antonoff. But there’s plenty of bite and fire on the first half of the disc.
Primarily produced and co-written with Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin and Shellback, it struts on with “... Ready for It?” and proclaims “Don’t Blame Me” before throwing darts at her nemesis Kanye West and his wife Kim Kardashian on “Look What You Made Me Do.”
All that should make for compelling listening. But the disappointment of “Reputation” is how ordinary the pop is -- and how average Swift is as a rapper/R&B singer. So the record fails to fully connect, even on repeat listens.
“Reputation” is going to be the top selling album of 2017. But it sure isn’t going to be the best. Grade: B-