Album review: Taylor Swift – 1989

1989 still sounds like a Taylor Swift album, although expanded to IMAX proportions.

Taylor Swift performs on ABC's Good Morning America at Times Square in New York City last week. Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images / AFP
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Taylor Swift

(Big Machine)

Four stars

It’s the decade that refuses to die. The 1980s influences and revivals are all around us in the movies we watch and, especially, in the music we listen to.

So it perhaps wasn’t a huge surprise when Taylor Swift announced her latest album would be inspired by the year of her birth.

A more interesting proposition, however, was whether her already successful career, solidly anchored within the country-pop genre, could expand to include an out-and-out mainstream pop album.

Thankfully, 1989 still sounds like a Taylor Swift ­album – although one that's expanded to the musical equivalent of big-screen IMAX proportions. Nearly all of the tracks have been polished to a sparkling sheen with a steady supply of warm synths, scudding beats and, of course, Swift's confident vocals.

The opener, Welcome to New York, is an anthem marking Swift's arrival at the gates of pop stardom and it benefits from a fun synth line.

The singer's much-publicised friendship with the Kiwi indie-pop darling Lorde has also clearly rubbed off on her ­creatively. The new single Blank Space is what Lorde would sound like with a million-dollar budget.

Out of the Woods is the album's highlight – the production is ambitious and dense, with chant-like snippets zooming around both sets of speakers. The much-publicised first single Shake it Off may have turned heads when it was released in August, but within the context of 1989 it comes off as a piece of welcome fluff.

If Swift had rounded off the album with the 11th track, the power ballad This Love, she would have left us with a tight and concise pop record that would have been a contender for album of the year. Unfortunately tracks 12 and 13, I Know Places and Clean, are weak.

Those clunkers aside, 1989 is indeed a major step forward for Swift. Despite the big sonic makeover, her artistic voice remains solidly intact and that is indeed something to celebrate in the here and now.