Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Taylor Swift: 1989 [Big Machine, 2014]
The NYC tourist jingle everybody hates on to prove they're not her shills is my favorite thing here. Having emigrated to Manhattan myself, albeit from Queens, I think it's silly to demand sociology from someone who can't stroll Central Park without bodyguards. I note that even from a limo you can tell that the "everyone" here who "was someone else before" includes many immigrants of color. And I credit its gay-curious moment even if she ends up with a banker like her dad. All that said, however, there's a big difference between Swift's Manhattan and the one I can afford only due to real estate laws as vestigial as the family grocery that just closed up across the street, and you can hear that difference in the music. In principle I'm down with the treated hooks and doctored vocals with which Swift makes herself at home. Freed of Nashville's myth of the natural, she echoes and double-tracks and backs herself up, confides with soft-edged subtlety and fuses the breathy with the guttural. But I have less use for the cyborg with feelings she's playing now than for the gawky 15-year-old she created on Fearless--the one who was a hundredth as talented and a tenth as self-possessed as the 18-year-old who imagined her, the one who gathered an audience of country fangirls Nashville didn't know existed. That fifteen-year-old obviously isn't much like me. But she's more like I was when I got here than the cyborg will ever be, or most bankers either. A-