Taylor Swift's fifth album, 1989, dropped on Monday, and immediately Tampa Bay Times archenemies/podmates Sean Daly and Michelle Stark launched into a debate: Is this her best LP yet? Commence bickering, you crazy kids...
SEAN: In short: yes. Easy answer is that the four best songs of her career are on here: Out of the Woods, Blank Space, How You Get the Girl, I Wish You Would. In longer: As you no doubt read and enjoyed in my full review of her album, Michelle, I praised T-Swizz for shifting focus from her love life (and essentially giving power to men and the media) to her music and herself. Hey, she's always been dominant and profitable, but now there's something new about her and her songs: a believable confidence and honesty. This is her first "pop" album, but marketing and hype aside, it's actually a conceptual vision, inspired by the synthy, rambunctious '80s and her newfound freedom. Her previous albums have beautiful work on them, of course. But they suddenly seem a bit cloying and affected compared to 1989. The real Taylor Swift just stood up.
MICHELLE: Sean, I have been preparing for just this occasion by blasting Swift's previous two albums on repeat in my car the past few weeks. First and foremost, that's how I judge whether I love her stuff: Can it withstand five listenings per day and me singing along at the top of my lungs? Speak Now and Red are stiff competition, and pop or not, I do think 1989 is on par with both of them. (One area it's immediately better: The beats on this thing are SICK.) Here's the thing. I don't care whether Swift wants to sing her lyrics over a synth beat or guitar strums. At this point, if it comes from Taylor Swift, I'm giving it a shot. She's her own genre. That's why 1989 doesn't read like Swift trying to copy her pop peers (though, yowza, Blank Space is the twin sister of Lorde's Team); 1989 is Swift wanting to do what everyone else is doing and, in making it her own, doing it a lot better than almost anyone else.
Alas, I'm not sure I can quite call this album her best. Swift's great strength is her songwriting, at once intimately evocative and epically universal, and if 1989 falters anywhere it's here. It's all a tad shallow compared to heavyweights Speak Now and Red (and Swift's catapult to fame Fearless!). And I cannot agree with your bold statement that those four songs are her best ever. Nothing on this album emotionally wrecks me like Speak Now's Dear John or Last Kiss ("I still remember the look on your face, lit through the darkness at 1:58"). Or Red masterpiece All Too Well (not exaggerating: I tear up every time Swift hits that bridge, "And then you call me up again just to break me like a promise"). Out of the Woods comes the closest to making me feel deeply, which is why for me it's the album's strongest song. (Blank Space is a close second: "Oh my god, look at that face / you look like my next mistake".) I don't think this is entirely to 1989's detriment. I'm glad Swift didn't just make another Red. This is her most ambitious (and fun!) work, and a good indication of where she's at in life. Trust me, there's a giant ocean of difference between being a 19- or 20-year-old girl and being a 24-year-old girl, and we're seeing that evolution here.
SEAN: Aw crap, just listened to Last Kiss again. That thing's bleepin' brutal. Is anyone in modern pop better at capturing the moments right before a breakup, that cinematic twilight time? Taylor OWNS that time. Not saying she enjoys things going awry, but she sure turns lemons into bittersweet lemonade. And it makes a lot of sense that you're so protective of Speak Now and Red. You're the same age, growing up with her, going through a lot of the same life twisteroos. Very cool. I'm older, so maybe that's why I responded to 1989's vintage inflections and over-the-top production. (Kudos to Fun.'s Jack Antonoff for the frenzy that is Out of the Woods.) She lives in New York now, and how poetic is that: She's a blond, beautiful, chest-pounding King Kong owning the city, the radio, the whole damn world.
MICHELLE: Indeed, Sean, I was born just one year before Taylor. And, if nothing else, 1989 is an eternal reminder of that. So, thanks for that, Swift! In all seriousness: The more I listen to the new record (onto my fourth listen of the day!), the more I dig it. I'm even going to defend the WHOA THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE '80S synth sounds of opener Welcome to New York (not sure I can defend those lyrics), and first single Shake It Off, which sounds shockingly out of place on this album after hearing the other 12 tracks, but is way too catchy to write off. I'm telling you, I get the most excited when it comes on during my Monday night Zumba class. And maybe that's the best use of 1989. Forget the deep lyrics: Let's all just throw our hands up and have a carefree dance party. You in, old man?
As testament to both her puppet-string skills as businesswoman and pop superhero, Taylor Swift's love life is now the least interesting thing about her. As her fifth album, the sugary yet conceptual 1989, was released Monday, the pride of Wyomissing, Pa., finally earns what she always wanted: more respect as an artist than a maneater.
In hyping the new record — whose title nods not only to her birth year but a Neo New Wave vibe (Madonna's in there, the Cars too) — the 24-year-old did two sly things. First, she said she hasn't dated anyone in a year. Secondly, she said she's not country anymore, opting for her first "pop" album. Both statements focused all attention on her music. She knew she had a winner with the rambunctiously crafted 1989, which features a litany of hot producers (Shellback, Max Martin) but is ultimately the playful, go-me vision of Swift herself. ...
10/27/14 Music & Concerts
Tampa Bay in a Minute video: For Sean Daly's take on the album in less than 60 seconds, click here.
As testament to both her puppet-string skills as businesswoman and pop superhero, Taylor Swift's love life is now the least interesting thing about her. As her fifth album, the sugary yet conceptual 1989, was released Monday, the pride of Wyomissing, Pa., finally earns what she always wanted: more respect as an artist than a maneater....
Is it wrong that I'm going to miss Gareth, arguably the best villain ever on The Walking Dead, more than Bob, easily the most romantic dude on AMC's hit bloodfeast? In the third (nail-bitingly streamlined) ep of TWD's fifth season, it turned out that the Bob Buffet, revealed in a final-scene shocker last week, was some seriously dirty dining. Sasha's beau was zombie-bit in the food bank -- a fact he revealed to the Terminus baddies after they snacked on his left leg. ("I'm tainted meat!" Awesome. Print the T-shirt immediately.) So we knew Bob wasn't making it to the end credits. He was such a sweetheart, too. Man, all of the good ones are eaten! Am I right, ladies?...
Zombies and human fallibility aside, The Walking Dead needs a true villain, a neo-mustache-twirler who's abandoned all shred of new-world reason. The One-Eyed Gov was megomaniacally eeeevil by his grisly end, and the show was better for it -- a Bad Guy that gooses the Good Guys. When Rick & Co. 'sploded Terminus and set out on a Road to Nowhere in the Season 5 premiere, I feared the show would once again wander and weave into a sloggish, too-many-plotlines pace. And blame it on my ADD, but Sunday's followup ep -- titled "Strangers" -- was a slow-builder for almost its entire length. Here we go againzzz. Then Gareth, the subtly creepola Terminus chief, showed up in the final frame...AND SNACKED ON BOB'S BBQ'D LEG RIGHT IN FRONT OF BOB! "You taste much better than we thought you would." Dannnggg!! I'm hooked and, oddly enough, hungry....
Not gonna lie: I've listened to new Taylor Swift song Out of the Woods approximately 322 times in the past two days. I'm officially on the record (vulnerable, shivering) saying it's the best song of her career thus far. So here's hoping the 24-year-old -- on a massive promotional swing for upcoming album 1989 (out Oct. 27) -- plays Out of the Woods at one of her myriad TV appearances. On Thursday, Oct. 23, on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Swift will set up smack-dab in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. On Monday, Oct. 27, she'll do a sit-down interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America; then, on Thursday Oct. 30, she'll come back to GMA to play "in the heart of New York City." Finally, on Wednesday, Oct. 29. America's Sweetheart will be the featured guest on The View. ...
Hey you gore-hungry boys and girls, only a few days away from the second ep of The Walking Dead's so-far-so-cutthroat fifth season. I'll do a full excitable recap right here after the show Sunday. (Morgan's back! Maybe Singing Beth, too? And am I the only one who loves-hates Gareth? We need a good villain a la the One Eyed Gov.) I'll check in on The Feed's Twitter page, too. If you're catching up (or just can't get enough), you can read my review of the premiere then check out my feverish debate with rabid Dead-despiser Michelle Stark THEN marvel at the show's record-breaking ratings. Plus if you're a colossal nerd, and you remember Morgan's epic "Clear" episode, check out our creepy walking tour of Grantville, Ga. Until then, here's a teaser for this Sunday's show......
10/15/14 Music & Concerts
Beauty, brains and a broke-down pickup. A platinum blond with a gold-plated conscience. Mostly classy, sometimes trashy, never dumb. That's the Miranda Lambert aesthetic, and it's the hot trend in Nashville.
Sure Music Row will always adore its party stars, its Luke Bryans and Carrie Underwoods. But the buzziest country movement, headed by Grammy champs Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, is rebellious singer-songwriters with more on their minds than kicks 'n' keggers. Loretta Lynn is their patron saint: Look pretty and speak the truth....
10/14/14 Music & Concerts
Earth, Wind & Fire's September, arguably the feel-good-iest song of all time, was actually released in November — Nov. 18, 1978 to be exact. And for the past 36 years, the upbeat R&B classic with gibberish as its main hook has been a pop culture juggernaut. It's still a staple in dozens of TV shows and movies, at wedding receptions and even political rallies. • That's right: Al Gore may not be the funkiest dude, but when he needed a theme song for his 2000 presidential run, he went with those infamously silly but irresistible ba-dee-ya!s (oh, and Republicans have used it, too — it's a bipartisan get-down). • Earth, Wind & Fire will almost certainly play September when they headline Thursday's opening of the four-day Clearwater Jazz Holiday (which, celebrating its 35th year, is almost the same age as that signature song). And those in attendance will almost certainly respond as millions of others have: by dancing, warbling along and for a few blissful minutes, feeling really good....
10/14/14 Music & Concerts
Out of the Woods is Taylor Swift's best song yet. Like, ever.
There, I said it. It's out there.
Released via iTunes on Tuesday, Out of the Woods is the second cut to be heard from upcoming album 1989, which is due Oct. 27. Not only is the new track far superior to cheerleader-cheeky first single Shake It Off, but the Out of the Woods is vastly different from anything the 24-year-old gone-pop dynamo has ever done. And that goes for lyrical maturity as well as a big booming sound that borrows from circa-'80s MTV....
So Much for a 'Dead' Dropoff: AMC is 'Walking' tall after zombie hit's Season 5 premiere scores best ratings ever10/14/14 Blog
You can pick on The Walking Dead all you want -- tottering pace, too many dang characters, gaping logic loopholes -- but you sure can't ding the AMC smash for viewer swoon. Sunday's slam-bang Season 5 premiere scored the record-breaking series' highest ratings EVER, with 17.3 million of us tuning in to see Rick & Co. shoot their way out of Terminus. (That number is 7 percent higher than the previous record: TWD's Season 4 premiere.) You folks sure do dig zombie entrails!...
Did we just witness the tautest hour in the history of The Walking Dead, a cutthroat Season 5 premiere for the flesh-eating ages? Sean Daly thinks so. Or is the AMC phenomenon (the highest-rated series in basic-cable history) a beyond-tedious mess at this point? Um, super casual Dead fan Michelle Stark thinks so. Herewith, the Tampa Bay Times TV nerds debate Sunday's kickoff episode. Needless to say, they don't agree....
Did you bail on The Walking Dead last season? Or maybe the season before that? Too many characters, too much talking, too much much-ness from a show whose brilliant first season was so spare and moody and horrifically suburban? Hey, I've been as critical & cranky as anyone in bemoaning the show's tottering imbalance. But Sunday's Season 5 premiere is a doozy -- and a good, gory reason to give the AMC hit one more chance. HERE'S MY REVIEW....
10/09/14 The Feed
The Walking Dead stumbles into its fifth season Sunday with all the imbalance of its star flesh-eaters. The fourth campaign was wildly uneven, lurching from inspired installments involving that one-eyed governor and those two dead girls to frustrating go-nowhere episodes on the slow crawl to Terminus, a hoped-for safe haven where the living could find refuge from the not-so-living. There were too many characters, too many plots and tonal shifts. Critics and fans were losing patience....
10/09/14 Music & Concerts
It's a good day for bad boys: First-time nominees Green Day, Nine Inch Nails and Morrissey's the Smiths, plus Lou Reed and N.W.A., are all on the ballot for the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Depending on how voting goes, that could be quite the incendiary jam session on April 18, 2015.
And by incendiary, I mean they might just burn the Cleveland joint to the ground.
Other nominees announced Thursday include Sting (who's already in as a member of the Police), the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Kraftwerk, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the Marvelettes, the Spinners, War, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers. Top vote-getters (the public gets a say along with artists and industry mucketies) will be announced sometime at the end of this year. (Artists are eligible 25 years after their first recording — yes, Green Day fans, you're getting old.)...