Aside from briefly registering that ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’, from 2012’s ‘Red’, was a rather fine pop song, Taylor Swift hadn’t shown up on my radar prior to 2014. Several journalists I rather respect were fizzing with excitement both about her live shows and her imminent, pure-pop return. Having previously done the country-rock-pop thing, Swift had been evolving her sound and, so it was said, had completed the transition with an album of meticulously crafted smashes. All of which I took with a pinch of salt. I adore decent pop but learnt the lesson as long ago as the age of seven that it is not a genre especially well served by the album format. Whether I’m thinking about my copies of ‘Hangin’ Tough’, ‘Take That & Party’ or even the first Girls Aloud offering, they all conformed to the theory that albums by chart-shagging hit monsters tended to be all about the singles that lured you in in the first place, along with another eight tracks of largely mediocre filler. Girls Aloud only really managed to buck the trend once, with ‘Tangled Up’, even if Nicola Roberts went on to release a largely perfect solo offering. Rhianna albums are simply houses for excellent singles, while even late period Take That, though not late enough to include the bizarre tribute trio who dance as if slightly alight, was hardly consistent. Indeed, when a truly splendid, fully up to scratch, non-stop singalong, actually rather impressive pop record comes out, we should all stop and celebrate.
That, I suspect, is why so many serious journalists are raving about ‘1989′, while several opt to casually sneer just like the tone-deaf wazzocks who don’t allow the wonder of songs like ‘Biology’ into their lives. This is a joyous, tremendously well produced and really rather well written record. Of course, we all know that ‘Shake It Off’ is one of the year’s defining songs, with good reason, but ‘Style’, ‘Blank Space’, ‘Wildest Dreams’, Out Of The Woods’, ‘Welcome To New York’ and ‘Clean’ are all pretty close behind. The choruses soar, Swift’s vocal performances demonstrate her ability to truly occupy a song and the lyrics will get stuck in your head with minimal effort. For anyone still scarred by the debacle of the Kaiser Chiefs‘ scansion nightmare in ‘Ruby’, listening to the fabulously measured delivery of the chorus of ‘Style’ or the middle eight of ‘Wildest Dreams’ will provide permanent balm.
The main reason I love this record is its relentless sense of fun. Swift is a pure pop star. She’s smart, determined and more interested in having a bunch of decent songs than ridiculous dance routines to disguise the absence of melody, or the absence of clothes to disguise ridiculous dancing. She reminds me of being a music fan in the early Nineties when it felt like pop stars were invincible, larger-than-life characters, rather than products of the Cowell machine or one false step away from psychiatric care. I don’t care how well the campaign has been manipulated or if I’ve swallowed it up, hook, line and sinker. This is a bloody brilliant record that makes me smile. Properly smile. And dance a bit. And, if that wasn’t enough, one of its best tracks isn’t even on the standard edition. ‘New Romantics’ is yet another straight up smash, with lyrics like “heartbreak is our national anthem” and a chorus that Barlow, Jesus and ‘Do you think he’s just snorted something?’ would give their left arms for. If you’re sitting there saying ‘I can’t believe this is higher than x album on this list’ then I sincerely hope you’ve given this sufficient time before making such a judgement. If not, more fool you.