Elegies to lost love: ‘The Tortured Poets Department’ is one of Taylor Swift’s best releases

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

After the build up to Taylor Swift’s 11th studio album, listeners delved into the long-awaited “The Tortured Poets Department” (TTPD) — an elegiac double album traversing love and heartbreak. 

The two hour long album traverses the different stages of grief following the end of Swift’s seven-year relationship with English actor Joe Alwyn. The 31 tracks pull from genres ranging from folk to electro pop and features from Florence + the Machine and Post Malone.

Conceptually, the album among the most complex and heart-wrenching Swift has written. TTPD serves as a bookend to her relationship with Alwyn and, with it, ends the sequence to albums post-“reputation.” Hence, the album design reintroduces the black-and-white color scheme of “reputation,” which was released in 2017 as the discographic debut of their relationship. 

Throughout the course of Swift and Alwyn’s relationship she came out with five studio albums, namely, “Lover” which gave listeners captivating love songs like “Lover” and “Daylight.” The two co-wrote songs like “betty” and “evermore” on the “folklore” and “evermore” albums and more recent songs like “Sweet Nothing” in “Midnights,” which makes the split and Swift revisiting those moments while writing the new album, even more heartbreaking. 

Additionally, returning themes of investigative media engagement with her music resurface in this album like in “reputation.” But in the new release, she is the one to create an obscure, yet telling, encapsulation of the course of her relationship with Alwyn and why it ended. 

Just as Swift has been taking back ownership of her music with the rerecording of her early albums, she reclaims the narrative of her life. The double album is evidence of what actually led to the duo parting ways. 

Sonically, the first 16 tracks of the double album are reminiscent of songs “From The Vault” in “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” with an old-western twang interspersed throughout. I really loved the musically up-beat tone of the first 16 tracks like “Florida!!! (feat. Florence + The Machine)” with somber tracks interspersed like “So Long London.” 

Meanwhile, the tracks exclusively from “TTPD: The Anthology” are mostly brooding, with a couple gleeful songs like “So High School” interwoven between. These songs implement the folk guitar and piano previously heard in the sister albums “folklore” and “evermore.” 

The album’s greatest strength lies in its powerful, raw, cryptic and unveiling lyricism. Lyrically, TTPD continues the mystical and obscure storytelling of Swift’s last three albums. 

The magnified poetic flair of referencing literary characters (Peter Pan), Greek mythology (Cassandra) and icons in the film (Clara Bow) and music industry (Charlie Puth and Stevie Nicks) makes TTPD one of Swift’s best. Additional references to songs Swift previously wrote during the relationship also add depth and complexity. Songs include “London Boy” from her “Lover” album — “the lakes,” “seven” and “invisible string” from folklore as well as “Maroon” from “Midnights.”

The two tracks featuring Post Malone and Florence + the Machine stood out as some of my favorites. I can see the influence that both featured artists had on their respective tracks, Post Malone adding a rich country pop sound and Florence + The Machine, an indie rock flare. Additionally, I deeply appreciated the attention to detail in crafting both songs and connecting them to one another via the settings of Texas and Florida. 

Malone’s signature smooth vocals complemented Swift well, but I wish he had an individual verse or pre-chorus like Florence + the Machine had in their song with Swift. Meanwhile, Florence + the Machine brought lots of energy to “Florida!!! (feat. Florence + the Machine)” with delicate yet striking vocals and powerful drum intermissions.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I would listen to “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” first as the quintessential heartbroken Stanford student anthem. But, as an homage to Swift’s obsession with the number 13, I felt the need to give my current top 13 tracks from the record: “So Long London,” “How Did It End?,” “loml,” “I Hate It Here,” “Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus,” “Who’s Afraid of Little Old Me?,” “The Alchemy,” “The Black Dog,” “Florida!!! (feat. Florence + The Machine),” “So High School,” “Fortnight (feat. Post Malone),” “The Manuscript” and “Clara Bow.”

A big part of the album-release process and the piecing together of the stories Swift tells through her songwriting are the easter eggs, many of which uncover different aspects of the story. There are countless easter eggs in Swift’s lyrical insight into the course of her time with Joe Alwyn, Matty Healy and her current, refreshing dynamic with boyfriend Travis Kelce. Listening to the album felt like deciphering a storyline for which Taylor gathered the pieces and “entered into evidence” for her fans.

Among the ones I’ve caught, my favorites are the reference to Alwyn in “imgonnagetyouback” with the lyric “even if it’s cupped, I’ll be coming home with you,” apparently drawing from the phrase “cup of Joe.” Alwyn is also referenced through the mimicking of the Elizabeth Tower clock in echoing vocals at the beginning of “So Long London.” “Fortnight (feat. Post Malone)” seems to be about Matty Healy (a fortnight is 14 days like 1989 – 14 = 1975). Healy is possibly referenced in the lyric “you look like Stevie Nicks in ’75,” in “Clara Bow.”

The album has only been out for a few days and has already become one of my favorites from Swift. Although I understand critiques of some album tracks not sounding unique in sequence to others, I believe the distinctions are vividly present and more so lyrically. Each song explores a different dimension of the process of grieving that she has gone through and each song is part of the TTPD world she brings listeners into with easter eggs revealing more of the story. As is often the case, I believe more fans will also develop an appreciation for the album as the meaning of Swift’s cryptic lyricism is further unearthed.