Taylor Swift never hesitated to place a veiled version of herself at the center of her songs, but reputation is her first record specifically about "Taylor Swift Superstar," not the singer/songwriter who grew up in public. reputation dispenses with the notion that Swift is a babe in the woods, swapping naivete for calculation, leaning hard into the idea that she plots her every move. In that light, it's difficult not to read reputation as Swift's first self-consciously "adult" record, one preoccupied with sex, betrayal, and the scars they leave behind. Appropriately, she dresses reputation in dark, moody sounds, dwelling on drum loops and synthesizers. Working with Jack Antonoff, Max Martin, and Shellback -- all veterans of 2014's 1989 -- her official pop makeover -- Swift achieves a steely, nocturnal sound, one that appears to exist on a gray scale: Apart from the delicate closer "New Year's Day," every song on reputation has a cool, gleaming patina that's designed to put an alluring distance between Swift and the listener. That sense of remove can highlight how clumsy Swift can be in regard to carnality -- whenever she writes about sex, she tends to be a bit on the nose -- and occasionally her attempts at villainy veer toward the absurd ("This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things"), an awkwardness that's distracting upon first listen but less so on revisits. Upon repeated plays, these lyrics fade, as does the monochromatic production, and what's left is a coming of age album anchored by some strong Swift songs, most of which are bunched at the end of the record. "Getaway Car," "Delicate," "Dress," and especially "New Year's Day" carry Swift's trademark blend of vulnerability, melody, and confidence, but they are deeply felt and complex, signs that all of the heavy-handed persona plays of reputation were a necessary exercise for her to mature as a singer/songwriter.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine