Everyone’s talking about Taylor Swift’s Tortured Poets Department lyrics, but what about the production?

Taylor Swift The Tortured Poets Department
(Image credit: Beth Garrabrant)

Taylor Swift’s new album (actually, make that double album), The Tortured Poets Department, has landed, so the inevitable media scrutiny of her latest batch of lyrics - what has she said, and about whom? - can begin.

There’s plenty of fun to be had doing that, obviously - unless you’re The 1975’s Matty Healy, apparently - but what does the album actually sound like?

Before we get to that, let’s deal with the personnel: longtime collaborator Jack Antonoff is back as co-writer and co-producer, and The National’s Aaron Dessner takes on both of these roles at various points, too.

Post Malone makes an appearance on opening track, Fortnight, and Florence Welch appears on Florida!!!, but that’s as far as the guest spots go.

Sonically, we’re very much in ‘80s synth territory. Pads and sustained bass notes abound, as do simple drum machine patterns and glacial melodies.

This musical bed, we’re guessing, was at least partially created in Antonoff’s New York studio, which we know from a recent Apple Music video contains the likes of a Minimoog, Roland Junos and a Mellotron

We suspect that some of the synths used on Swift’s previous album, Midnights, are in play here, too. Speaking to MusicRadar about his work on that record, Antonoff said: “I was really into the Oberheim OB-8, which I had never used another album, so I got really crazy about that. We were getting a lot from Yamaha DX7s, which I hadn't used before really on anything. I was using the Solina in a lot of places, which I never use in other records. That album was just wanting to push into a different place with synths.”

The Tortured Poets Department certainly has some sonic similarities with Midnights, and at times calls to mind Swift’s 1989 album, too. The star’s familiar vocal phrasing and melodic signatures are also present and correct.

If you wanted to be critical - which sort of seems pointless given her current level of success - you could question if Swift could be a little more ambitious with her use of harmony. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that she frequently leans on a lot of the same tried and tested chord progressions, but Jacob Collier-esque flights of muscial fancy aren't really her brand, and why radically change a formula that’s been so successful?

The Tortured Poets Department is available everywhere (honestly, you won’t be able to escape it) now.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.