Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Taylor Swift / Shakira / Katy B / Tove Lo / Haim / Lorde / Sia


Taylor Swift: 1989

(Big Machine)

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 MINUS


Shakira: Shakira

(RCA)

This album finally made me its own in a Puerto Rican traffic jam, where I felt compelled to pull Tom Zé out of the slot because I needed a bigger lift. The Latin setting fed this decision. But Zé is no gringo, and the hottest Latin track here, including the two in Spanish at the end, is the Dr. Luke confection that climaxes the four-song takeoff I was craving—a musical jam that, as I’d hoped, brightened my mood until well after the traffic jam had dissolved. Later Shakira gets more pensive, as is her warbling wont. But right up to “Loco Por Ti” she works well-meaning variations on her special brand of chipper sentimentality—seldom deep, but so useful in getting one through life’s smaller crises. A MINUS

Katy B: Little Red (Columbia) Best beats front-loaded, first ballad Robyn-worthy, but after six-seven songs it slides into a pop void and the bonus tracks are worse (“Next Thing,” “5 AM”) ***

Tove Lo: Queen of the Clouds (Island) R-rated concept album about clubworld “SEX,” “LOVE,” and “PAIN” ramped up by neither PG-rated remix hit nor modest tune quotient (“Habits [Stay High],” “Moments”) ***

Haim: Days Are Gone (Columbia) Three sisters unite to negotiate reassuringly generic man trouble—even the madrigal hooks have a suprapersonal anonymity to them (“The Wire,” “Falling”) **

Lorde: Pure Heroine (Lava/Republic) Her ambition’s in the right place, but the reason she always co-writes is that 16-year-olds don’t just crank out hits (“Royals,” “Tennis”) **

Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear (Puzzle/RCA) Hookmeister with a voice too big and/or a vocal style too self-regarding to keep things light—and now, one stone masterpiece in her kit (“Chandelier,” “Elastic Heart”) *


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Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter at @rxgau.
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