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Taylor Swift's 'The Tortured Poet's Department'

Taylor Swift has once again set the world alight with the release of her double album The Tortured Poet's Department. This is her 11th studio album, and it has already broken Spotify records in being the most-streamed album in a single day after it reached 300 million streams! Three of which are from our rrramble writers. So what did they think? Read below to find out...


A black and white still of Andrew Scott holding a camera. The image is encircled by a green and pink camera aperture


Sabrina


I was torn between excitement and trepidation for The Tortured Poets Department (TTPD), because Lover is still my favourite Taylor album, largely due to feeling so overjoyed that post-Reputation Taylor was so happy again with her – we thought – forever partner Joe. But alas. The ‘omg new album when?!’ tweets of April 2023 (when the Joe/Taylor split was confirmed) initially repulsed me – she’s a real person, not just here for our entertainment – but nevertheless, I’m glad she has her song writing to cope.


The lead-up to TTPD was soured by news that the bonus tracks would be split individually into four physical versions of the album. I’ve loved Taylor’s music for over fifteen years, but I’m not buying a bunch of things I don’t even want just for a few extra songs that I’ll be listening to on my phone anyway! That’s why the The Anthology double album version was the best surprise – bleary eyed in the early morning, my heart sank to find yet another edition…of 31 songs?! With those four bonus tracks?! My heart was buoyed by the delicious satisfaction that I hadn't pre-ordered anything yet, though I feel bad for those dedicated Swifties who might have done.


The going was good with the first ten or so songs. At the end of it all, though I hate to say it, I don’t think we needed 31 songs. They are mainly differentiated by their lyrics (the tortured poetry, I suppose), but due to some hearing loss in the high frequencies, I often struggle to comprehend lyrics unless I have them in front of me. Without them, a lot of TTPD’s songs just sonically blend into each other. Since the success of Taylor’s ‘From the Vault’ tracks, and the hyper-commercialisation of the music industry, is this 31-strong tracklist the unfortunate manifestation of the more is more mentality? Speaking of more is more, I’m all for soul-baring lyrics, but sometimes oversharing is just oversharing (looking at you, Guilty as Sin?)!


Too often, I felt like the vocal melody was sacrificed for fitting all the words in (for example, The Smallest Man Who Ever Lived). Certain songs in folklore, evermore and Midnights share this issue, perhaps because the songs were ‘poetry’ first? However, isn’t that what edits are for? I guess I shouldn’t have expected an album of All Too Wells; Cruel Summers; augusts; Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ves (okay, I’ll stop building my ultimate Taylor album). But then again, why shouldn’t I? It’s not like Taylor doesn’t have a massive back catalogue that proves she can, time and time again, write poetic lyrics and pair it with captivating instrumentals.


I don’t want to give the false impression that I didn’t enjoy TTPD, as there were certainly some standout tracks that I know I’ll go back to. The Albatross felt masterful with its almost mythical imagery and storytelling, conjuring up my favourite kind of folklore atmosphere. I Can Do It With A Broken Heart had a wildly different vibe, a deceptively upbeat instrumental with sardonic (and devastating) lyrics about Taylor successfully acting happier than ever in the immediate aftermath of a breakup. The relentless drive of the chorus and post-chorus, and the shimmering synth in the background only reinforced this. This song was also one of the odd occasions where Taylor’s swearing augments the song (unlike The Bolter). 


Despite its shortcomings, TTPD will still be welcomed into my daily Tortured Commuter listening experience going forward. Lover easily defended its title as my favourite album, but TTPD may very well still grow on me!


Harriet


Before I delve into this album, let’s get something out of the way: I am not a Swiftie. I fully appreciate how talented Taylor Swift is, and how her music has created seismic shifts in the musical landscape. She is undeniably a genius, but the music she produces just isn’t the sort of music I listen to. Therefore, I went into The Tortured Poets Department completely naïve to her previous eras or albums and no idea what this album would involve or who it would be about. 


Clearly this is an album by Taylor, for Taylor. Though I don’t know much about her or her career, I do know that she has always put her life into her music, like an audio diary. This is definitely the case for this album, as it does feel very personal. For the majority of the songs, I didn’t understand the context of the lyrics, but the words are lovely and heartfelt and sad. 

The focus is definitely on the lyrics of the songs as opposed to making ‘catchy’ pop anthems. I suppose this makes sense given the title of the album, but it does mean that the songs do sound quite similar to each other. We start with a collab with Post Malone for ‘Fortnight’, a chill song with sad lyrics and a slight electronic beat. I didn’t realise it then, but that sets the tone for the rest of the album. This electronic, synth backing is clear in Down Bad, So Long, London, and I Can Do It With A Broken Heart, adding an extra dimension that contrasts with the honesty of the lyrics. Some of the other songs, especially But Daddy I Love Him, Fresh Out The Slammer and I Can Fix Him (No Really I Can), seemed to be a homage to her early country music. I liked this, as it reflected how far she has come from those early days, to making this album.


In terms of the other songs, I have mixed opinions. Floria!!! is probably my favourite on the album, but I am biased because I am a big fan of Florence and the Machine who collabs on this. It was a great combination between her and Taylor, and their voices blended beautifully together. Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me? is fun and dramatic, and is the least poetic of the album, channelling her feelings explicitly as opposed to through metaphors. On the other hand, loml is very ethereal and haunting, utilising tight harmonies to create an immersive ballad. 


Other than that, though, I don’t really have any strong opinions on the other songs. They were all good, but I found them forgettable once I had moved onto the next song in the list. Lyrically, they were great, but personally I think that if the value of a song is placed solely in its lyrical brilliance, it requires concentration to fully appreciate it. This is because you have to listen fully to the words, as opposed to just letting the music just wash over you. That’s not how I like to experience music. I am a big fan of singing along to songs I don’t really know the words to because I like the tune, and I don’t think I can do that with this album. 


To sum up, though the lyrics were great, no one song stood out for me and I probably won’t listen to this album again. At the risk of inciting the wrath of hardcore fans, I don’t think I understand what the fuss is about.



A black and white photo of Taylor swift in black underwear lying on white bedding. Her face is cropped out of the image, with only her nose and mouth showing.
When you say to your friends "I'm on my way" after they ask where you are


Wayne


Anyone else need a hug? 


Taylor Swift’s new double album that actually isn’t a double album (I’ll get to that) is an exhausting listen. Infinitely more so if you’re Matt Healy, Joe Alwyn or the mysterious subject of thanK you aIMee.


I’m pretty sure releasing a record isn’t cheaper than therapy. While the joy of watching those who’ve wronged you squirm in public may be priceless. Whenever I push play on her latest album, I’m starting to feel like a counsellor questioning both our life choices.


Mounting her past lovers’ heads (or perhaps something more south) to the wall has become tired. The self-masochism, the admittedly enjoyable laser precision put-downs we’d love to have come up with when burned by an ex. On one track even she sings “I know I’m just repeating myself”. As the saying goes, a mistake repeated more than once is a decision.  

But Swift has made her name by wistfully and publicly grieving for lost love. She’s the Slyvia Plath of pop. TTPD’s mostly melancholic aesthetic is fine for a while but becomes a dirge. When the up-tempo I Can Do It With A Broken Heart arrived 12 tracks in, I felt like a dog who’d learnt to fetch the newspaper, only for the remaining 19 tracks to then smack me across the nose with it for tearing a corner. Yes, I reviewed the two-plus hour long, 31-track, digital anthology. The things I do for rrramble!


On that note. Special editions and stunt releases aren’t new. Given fans’ fervour for her albums, dropping three versions each with a different bonus song then the digital anthology version hours later seems exploitive. How cool would it have been to say “hey, thanks for being there all these years, here’s a dozen more songs on me”. 


Thematically TTPD reminded me of Red, lyrically of Folklore or Evermore, and stylistically of 1989, but it didn’t quite hit the heights of any of them. There’s a weird style change when you move from the synthy standard version to the more acoustic driven anthology tracks. The same happened with Midnights, which I also reviewed. So much for once bitten, twice shy.


I’m glad Swift’s left the angry girl shit-talking to Olivia Rodrigo and gone for a more self-aware retrospective view of her recent misadventures in romance. (Not a bad title for her next record if she happens to chance upon this review!) Although her constant cussing makes her sound like a preschooler who knows how much of a rise it gets out of her parents.


TTPD doesn’t break new ground, but it doesn’t try to. Swift knows what her Gossip Girl (and Boy) fans want. To revel round their digital water coolers to guess which song is about who. It’s become tediously exhausting and, in this case, unnecessary.   


Like any of their ancestors who happened to be in Massachusetts in 1775, April 19 was a bad day for Brits; Healy (a Poundland John Mayer) in particular, and part-time actor Alwyn. 

 

Reviewing this wasn’t quite torture, more an unsatisfactory wait for a duty solicitor. My question of what kind of album would a happy Swift write, will have to remain unanswered.


The Tortured Poet's Department is now available to stream on all music platforms.


Edited by Hamilton Brown

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