Taylor Swift, "reputation" (Big Machine Records)
If you'd stop thinking about her reputation, you'd actually appreciate the musicality of Taylor Swift's "reputation."
Sure, she named the album that so there will be blog posts and essays deciphering the lyrics — was that about Kanye? Calvin? — but listen to the music, and you'll discover pure pop magic.
On 2014's "1989," Swift showed she could deliver great pop songs. On "reputation," her sixth album and second pop effort, she has mastered it.
The production level has enhanced, with little nuanced sounds throughout the album — including use of the vocoder — giving the tracks additional appeal. A good number of the 15 songs are bass heavy and beat-laden, while Swift tells the story of her life in the last two years — going from tabloid drama to falling in love.
She's striking on the exceptional "End Game," veering into contemporary R&B territory. Co-stars include rap hitmaker Future and Ed Sheeran, who is sing-rapping in the style he performed before you fell in love with "Thinking Out Loud."
Like the singles "...Ready for It?" and "Look What You Made Me Do," other tracks on the album have similar flair and a big sound, including "Don't Blame Me," ''Getaway Car," ''Dancing With Our Hands Tied" and "King of My Heart."
Riding those big beats are the lyrics — Swift's specialty. Some of the words hit hard like gunshots.
"If a man talks sh-- then I owe him nothing/I don't regret it one bit 'cause he had it coming," Swift sings on "I Did Something Bad."
On the thumping and theatrical "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," her target is crystal clear.
"And therein lies the issue/Friends don't try to trick you/Get you on the phone and mind-twist you," she sings. "But I'm not the only friend you've lost lately/If only you weren't so shady."
But the album isn't all boom boom pow and big beats. Closing track "New Year's Eve" is soft, stripped and slowed down, reminisicent of some of Swift's earlier work. "Gorgeous" and "Call It What You Want" also even out the gigantic sound of the album, produced with Jack Antonoff, Max Martin and Shellback.
"Reputation" also showcases a more sensual side of Swift. The performer with "that good girl faith and a tight little skirt" sings about scratches on her lover's back on "So It Goes...," and a man's hand in her hair on "Delicate," one of the brightest spots on the album. On the falsetto-heavy "Dress," another winning song and R&B-flavored gem, Swift is tipsy and spilling wine in the bathtub.
"Only bought this dress so you can take it off," she coos.
This album's got an outstanding reputation.