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The Simmons Voice

A new era of expression: Taylor Swift’s “The Tortured Poets Department”

As a whole, Swift’s new album is a thoughtful, if at times uneven, addition to her now 11-album discography.
via Beth Garrabrant

In an unexpected deviation from her ongoing project of reclaiming her stolen masters, Taylor Swift surprised fans by announcing an entirely new album on Feb. 4, 2024, “The Tortured Poets Department.” 

Many fans expected the re-recording of 2017’s “reputation” to mark her next era, so it was unclear what to expect from this new album. Released on April 19, “The Tortured Poets Department” offered 16 brand new songs with an LP “THE TORTURED POET’S DEPARTMENT: THE ANTHOLOGY” containing 15 additional songs released two hours after the original drop.

Both albums’ themes vary from heartbreak to mental health, showcasing Swift’s signature autobiographical style. This album explicitly addresses the emotional strain on the artist. This theme is vividly captured in the lyrics of “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” the thirteenth track of the album, where Swift sings, “All the pieces of me shattered / As the crowd was screaming ‘MORE!’” Another example is found in the track “loml,” with the lyric “I wish I could un-recall / How we almost had it all,” where Swift narrates the pain of a failed love story.

It didn’t take long for fans to connect the body of work to Swift’s demanding but successful world tour, The Eras Tour. It offers listeners a glimpse of the star’s lifestyle while on tour across 5 continents.

I was most excited about “But Daddy I Love Him,” as it stood out for its immediate evocation of “The Little Mermaid,” and who doesn’t love a great heartbreaking track? However, it was “So Long, London” where Swift’s distinct lyricism shines. With lyrics like “I stopped CPR, after all, it’s no use,” a dark humorous line potentially referencing her own Midnights track, “You’re Losing Me (From The Vault)”noted for its tempo by the American Heart Association for hands-only CPR.

However, not every song hits the mark. I found tracks like “So High School” to be reminiscent of her earlier “Fearless” album, but the football references fell short of the deeper lyrics I am used to hearing from her. The title track, ”The Tortured Poets Department,” feels underwhelming with lyrics like “We declared Charlie Puth should be a bigger artist,” which makes it feel like quick writing. 

Swift redeems herself with “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?” where she revisits the circus analogy from her beloved track, and my personal favorite, “mirrorball” from her eighth album, “folklore.” In this new song, Swift continues the story, singing, “I was tame, I was gentle till the circus life made me mean. Don’t you worry folks, we took out all her teeth.” This line echoes the sentiments of “mirrorball,” where she previously sang, “And they called off the circus, burned the disco down. When they sent home the horses and the rodeo clowns.” This new track serves as a thematic extension of her previous albums, addressing the relentless media speculation about her personal life that she is compelled to navigate publicly, similar to a circus spectacle.

Although some tracks may seem repetitive at first listen, we learn that even tortured poets benefit from editing. Nonetheless, “The Tortured Poets Department” is a testament to Swift’s love for her fans, particularly those who love decoding her lyrics. This album reflects her personal experiences and recent events and affirms her commitment to performing for her audience and future artists. The latter is depicted in “Clara Bow” when she sings “You look like Taylor Swift, in this light, we’re loving it, you’ve got edge, she never did, the future’s bright… dazzling.”

As a whole, Swift’s new album is a thoughtful, if at times uneven, addition to her now 11-album discography. If you love musical storytelling, “The Tortured Poets Department” will provide you a rewarding evening of decoding and exploring personal and poetic layers.

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    fongApr 29, 2024 at 1:15 am

    I agree with this review. I feel it showcases my experience with Swift’s latest album. Though I don’t consider near her best nor close to a defining of her career. I understand why she release it at this time.