Despite what she said, the old Taylor Swift isn’t quite dead. After eight songs of confrontation and angst, Reputation’s “Getaway Car” arrives like a savior: the one true tune to hum misty-eyed after the movies. It’s got that 1989 synth glimmer, that Red melodic coziness, that Speak Now full-heart emotion. There are even such famous Swift tics as stories about driving and easy poetry about colors.
Other moments of sweet, transporting effervescence do exist on Swift’s long-awaited new album, but they are hidden throughout a dark and clanging landscape. Think of them as jewels in a dagger hilt, or to borrow from one of Swift’s favorite clichés, roses hidden amid thorns. One such moment is the creamy chorus of the flinty album opener “...Ready for It?” Another is the part of “End Game” that won’t crack up first-time listeners as she imitates a rapper at a strip club. Another is when a rare acoustic guitar rescues the mess of “King of My Heart,” featuring the all-time groaner “you move to me like I’m a Motown beat.”
By squirreling away some romance and serenity amid chaos and noise, the music fits the story Swift wants to tell. Reputation is 1989’s “I Know Places” writ large: a portrait of someone shutting out the world’s cruelty and finding refuge in love, as enacted in darkly lit bars, wine-spiked bathtubs, and zippy cars. Banishing any lingering impression of her notorious surprise face as a sign of naiveté, she unapologetically hops on recent, bleary-eyed pop fads even as she delivers her most personal lyrics to date. It’s hard to love Reputation as unreservedly as any of her previous work, but listeners looking for a catharsis party will get one.