Monday, 28 October 2013

Pop Corner: Katy Perry – Prism

As her 2010 sophomore album Teenage Dream was continually assaulting the charts with subsequent hits, Katy Perry dropped hints regarding what her follow-up would sound like. After her divorce with comedian Russell Brand in 2012, it seemed the post-marital angst was about to seep its way into her music when she proclaimed: "My music is about to get real fucking dark. I'll be shoegazing."

Whereas Perry meant that she would just literally be looking at the ground with her hair in her face, certain milieus jokingly took it as the California Gurl going My Bloody Valentine on us. But jokes aside, Teenage Dream's "Circle the Drain" was a fairly dark diatribe against a drug-addicted ex-lover. So I myself, wasn't expecting a genre-shift rather than something along the lines of Rihanna's Rated R in terms of thematic subjects.

Alas, the first single presented to us was entitled "Roar" and ended up being a particularly vibrant piece. Pianos plink along, synths waver up and down, and Katy spews time-tested clichés ("I stood for nothing, so I feel for everything", "I got the eye of the tiger") about overcoming adversity. If anything, it had more of the upbeat indie pop vibe of Stepdad than something out of Chapterhouse's more-accessible material. And Prism, her third album, doesn't seem like much of an evolution as it is a lateral shift. For the album, established pop smash curators like Max Martin and Dr. Luke are enlisted for writing and production to make appealing, catchy tunes like the second single "Unconditionally" or the discotheque-esque "Birthday" and its tongue-in-cheek, barely double entendres: "Let me get you in your birthday suit, it's time to bring out the big balloons"-- also, see "Peacock" for roughly the same thing but used so gratuitously that the song is actually cringingly entertaining.

At times we get songs we're pretty sure we've heard before. "This Is How We Do" straddles somewhere along the line between Ke$ha's sing-talk/rapping and "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)" before the song thankfully fades out until Katy demands we bring the beat back for like, 20 seconds--which might be useful for remix segue purposes but otherwise forces us to sit through more of a song that wasn't interesting in the first place. "This Moment" is a live-for-today instruction manual that could have been written for any other contemporary pop singer and is one of the most forgettable tracks in the album.

Other times the formula works perfectly. "International Smile" is a grooving piece with a strong hook about a globe-hopper who's: "A little bit of Yoko and...a little bit of oh no." The sound is slightly reminiscent of early Kylie Minogue and a vocoder solo towards the end that takes the song to new heights. "Ghost" is a bittersweet dance track that seems to directly address Perry's feelings regarding her marriage's end: From what she felt like an abrupt ending ("It's like the wind changed your mind") and coping with the remnants of a broken relationship ("It's out of sight, like you were never alive") to gaining insight afterwards and driving the ghost metaphor to home ("Rest in peace I'll see you on the other side"). However, without context, it all just reads like a standard break-up song: Perry can make breathy sighs and caterwaul at all the proper parts, but--be it too much studio sheen, over-rehearsal, or the singer's inability to express rawness--the emotional investment is notably absent.

Overall, though, Prism does take some stabs at different styles, with mixed results. "Walking on Air" is a 90s house-inspired, CeCe Peniston-aiming smash with an alluring bridge and a choir-filled climax. It's easy to wonder how the song would do with a more powerful vocalist but regardless it's total dance-pop euphoria and stands as the best track of the album. One of the most interesting tracks is "Legendary Lovers", which seems to ride the success of Selena Gomez's "Come & Get It" with its lush Bhanga-influenced beats, stomping chorus, and layered instruments--but the lyrics present a disconcerting issue as the song trivialises Hindu culture, comparing lovers to mantras and auras, and reducing the concept of Chakra to a mystical whisper mid-instrumental - essentially treating a religion like a 'exotic' fashion accessory. Should this ever become a single, I'll be sure to expect an offensive, white-washed video to come in hand. And then there's "Dark Horse". Its hypnotic, trap beat is perhaps the darkest thing about Prism with mesmerizing verses to match. The chorus gallops in only for the song to then drop-out and let the beat percolate until resuming to a passable feature from Juicy J, all closing with the chorus again. But when the song's all over and we're told: "There's no going back," it really doesn't feel like we've been anywhere to begin with.

And it pretty much matches the overall sense of Prism, we don't get a colourful array of styles and personalities as much as we get a dress-up montage. And sure, pop music should be about fantasy, but everything that sounds like a Katy Perry song is competent and safe and the more adventurous material doesn't have anything to tie them together and re-enforce their strengths. Though that isn't to say Prism doesn't have its moments that are more than impressive and at least make it an entertaining listen and warrant a couple more plays. The worthwhile stuff is certainly here and there. As with the sentiment echoed in the Sia Furler penned "Double Rainbow", "One man's trash is another man's treasure."
~Jonathan Hites


Arcade Fire - Reflektor

As I've mentioned in brief spots in the past, I'm a victim to the humble curiosity of an album cover. It was on a certain Saturday afternoon in a book shop some six years ago (it was the top floor where all the CDs were based if you're already confused) that I spotted an open book lit in neon tubing. It might have been my nature for liking particular modes of imagery; it might have been as simple as the #2 plastered above the rack in reference to its chart placement; it could perhaps have been something more. For whatever reason, that was my first journey (let alone discovery) into the baroque-come-alternative sound of Montreal's Arcade Fire. And while I grew to admire Neon Bible's darkly swatch of alternative rock and baroque pop, The Suburbs in 2010 was where the group found their driving narrative - both a grand detail of outer-city childhood as much as it was a lavish accoustic-led ensemble of mood and tone. But despite the stylistic changes from one record to the next, what gives Arcade Fire their appeal and their respect - and what I'd like to believe as the reason for their Grammy win for their grand opus three years ago - was the ease at which the band fused artistry and methodology in a way that sounded neither skeltal nor bloated. Rather, perfectly matched and equated. In that respect it's lesser in surprise that Reflektor finds the Canadian outfit resuming what appears to be their endless voyage of discovery with a forth album more exuberent and upbeat than previous outings.

From the outset, a two-disc seventy-four minute record feels a little less accessible and commercial. But on the inside, as an album coaxed with contemporary disco and dance influences by none other than the meistro of millenia moving-and-shaking, James Murphy, the act of artistry and expression is clear to see. Opening (if you want to discount the unneccessary reversed sampling of the hidden pre-gap track) lead-single and title-track Reflektor quickly brushes off any suggestion of a continuing humbleness a la The Suburbs with a sound that bobbles along with 4/4 percussion at its heart, with plenty of space left with which an assemble cast of instruments make their way onto the floor. Married duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne begin tentively soothing but soon jettison into place with a tone, like the song's choral marches, undoubtably reaching, 'I thought I'd found the connector/But it's just a reflektor'. And while this rhythmic march combined with these bubbly guitar plucks in parts definitely opens proceedings with a groove and a kick, the problem with this track lies not on its delivery, but more its continuation of such delivery. Though the use - be it out-of-focus and complimentary - of the squawking acid synths or bellowing saxophones neither hits me nor makes me squirm, the way it on for a further four minutes with barely any expansion or evolution, ends up grating how effective the previous three minutes have been built up to be. Even Bowie's one-line cameo isn't enough to demand extra attention. If anything, it feels unwanted and pointless.

In much the same fashion then, We Exist lavishes the listener with something of an extravagance of close-net performance with its compressed bass and clear drum beats. Butler & Chassagne's harmony is once more on top form as the two dance around the buzz and fuss of instrumentation in as much the same disco-flavoured fasion of previous. At this point it's clear that lyrics aren't necessarily going to reach the same layered or emotive heights as previous albums, 'Get down on my knees, begging us please/Praying that we don't exist'. And while this wouldn't cause as big a problem for other bands, what bugs me is that Butler's placement seems to portray a sign of clear intent to be at the front of the performance no matter what. It begins to strain especially when the track later crunches and wraps its way int knots with Butler's vocals caught nfrtunately at mid-drift. More-so in the closing stages when the bass takes lead and the production seems to limp awkwardly to the finish line with mashes of feedback. Fortunately, as Flashbulb Eyes wonderfully demonstrates with its shortening of duration, Arcade's partially-distorted, partially-contorted stance, there's a target in sight to hit in balancing the new-found emphasis on groove with the band's shoulder-bobbing, headnodding focus on bass leads and percussion that feels all-encompassed and universal than altogether background centred.

With this in motion, the rawdy transition to Here Comes The Night Time ignites this stage-performance linger, but doesn't fully implement it. Even with the immediate slow-down of what is a tense percussion and audacious guitar pacing, there's a charm in the introduction of jokingly bumbling piano bars. Musically, the stability and the constancy of rhythm works. Lyrically however, for Butler's own showing to fall down to repeating lines like 'Here comes the right time/here comes the night time' which is followed by a teasing 'They say heaven's a place/Yeh heaven's a place and they know where it is' that's answered with: 'But do you know where it is? It's behind a gate that won't let you in' not only draws bafflement, but its very inclusion feels irreleavnt and shoulder-shrugging. It wouldn't bother me as much had Butler's lyricism on ascension and (as earlier tracks have alluded to) going over the potential state he and the band might lie in socially, been as sarcastic or joking as the lines to Normal Person contain. For a track that sees Butler taking the band to the most extreme of live locale - the atmosphere and enclosure of the space flooding my mind with visions of a bar or perhaps a tiny venue with a stage and barely no floorspace - 'Do you like rock and roll music' to me paints Butler as being deliberately characture and frustrated, 'Because I don't know if I do'. It leads him then to question and even show a disdain against the rule of normality, 'They will break you down until everything is normal now'. And while his unconvincing rule of rhyming and word-pairings aren't anymore prolific, the surgent energy of the track's guitar rock sound at the very least works to Butler's cynically questioning favour, 'If that's what's normal now, I don't want to know'.

The surprise is almost non-existant then when I find Jonathan 'wossy' Ross being sampled to amplify the feeling of a live performance at the beginning of the riggedy accoustics of You Already Know even if the effect is not only short-lived but placed unfavourably at a time where Joan Of Arc romps onto stage with a sonic atmosphere a lot more filling and rowdier that it seems rather more suited to the compositions that have come before. Butler's delivery follows in the same line of arm-waving, vocal chord-straining cries in a track that sticks close to its disco leanings but merits enough of a backbone to let it expand its percussion leads and bass that once more swarms the mixdesk, unfortunately, like a vast unescapable smog. So it's onto the second-disc that we find Arcade Fire - surprisingly on a musical stand-point but not so when you look at it from the artistic perspective of it being 'the beginning' of the second half - strip away the hooks and the drums for Here Comes The Night Time II and instead replace it with a confusing mix of spectral violin strings and distorted feedback that lacks the underlining fidelity or direction that previous tracks at the very least alluded to. Coming to the following pairing of tracks which in name reference the two mythological beings presented on the album's sleeve, Arcade Fire's intent is at its most fractured and least convincing more-so. Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) despite offering an interesting texture of percussion, not only lacks the essence and passion of deivery, but feels forced into a length that doesn't at all suit its hollow personality. It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus) soonafter is just as under-baked via its looser focus and fainter emphasis on instrumentation.

So to add Porno to the mix, which is perhaps Arcade Fire's most non-Arcade Fire sounding track of their career thus far, seems at this point suicidal in its majorly electronic-driven slow-groove. But the beauty is in its desired slow-down of pace - beaming synthesizers and crisp drum machines sprinkled atop a track that caresses the space rather than artistically exhibits it. Though while the wavey nod of rhythm and groove is attractive in a piece that rises and falls in swatches of electric strings and layering, Butler's vocals are anything but. 'I know I hurt you, I won't deny it/When I reach for you, you say I'm over it' epitomize the shallowness of Butler's lyrics and the hollow detail with which he plays with to interject personality in a track demanding a more personal and emotive dressage to its sleek, seductive structure. Afterlife while still borrowing from Murphy's dance-punk/DFA flair, is by far one of the better balances of Arcade's high-stakes take on performance and James Murphy's production know-how. And even if the disco-like drums remain dominant, it doesn't drive away or discourage the band from letting loose with choral sections that uplift and breathe a natural life into a predominantly glittering synthesis of rhythm and pace. But again even as Supersymmetry attempts to conjure some kind of suggestive send-off in its low-key percussion and vocal harmonics, Arcade Fire's message feels all too lost in its own depth. There are some brighter, more clearer introductions of spidery organ notes and synthesizers bubbling in the mix that lift the track from out the swamp it seems to lay low in, but throughout the [title song's] near-six minute concentrate, the objective is never lit or even hinted as being approached. More-so, as the album ends on a tape-reeling whirl of electronic feedback and synthesizer mumblings, the intention is lost evermore to the supposed ideaology...but sadly, is without objectifiable identity.

This isn't something they should be having trouble with given their discography has offered us some of the most subjective and fashionable of alternate rock records in the past ten years. Unfortunately, Reflektor pushes for conviction and persuasion in such a way that means lengthening and substantiating to the sacrifice of its content - landing Arcade's march forth the many missteps throughout. Where the favour is more on pushing this forging of differing musical orientations between artist and producer forward, neither party seem to stand willing to console the other, nor make ammends to their own musical deeds on final mix. Not that James Murphy is to blame for the album's wrong-doing; if anything his production provides the band a smooth and distinctive flair of rhythm and groove that, at the top of its game, is surprisingly infectuous. The problem lies on what comes after, and how the band undergo the development and progression of their sound in finalizing a direction. Sadly, for a record nearing ninety minutes in length, the reality that this could easily have fallen below the fifty mark and be rid of its unwanted, overexhausted, overglamourized delve into soundscapes, shows Arcade Fire up for how invested in hollow affairs they've become. So while basking in its own artistry - but sadly, to add to the many naming ironies that have come before, standing blissfully unaware of the reflection it emanates - is a skill Arcade Fire use with remarkable ease when playing the exhibitors' role, when the role turns to that of the exhibited, the output becomes all too like many a contemporary piece: lost unconvincingly to its own pretense of depth.
~Jordan Helm


Cut Copy - Free Your Mind

Cut Copy's pre-release single "Free Your Mind" has been on repeat since its release on the 11th of October. It has a similar effect on the listener, as Primal Scream's "Come Together", and "Loaded". Primal Scream's love for acid house and alternative dance sprouted out of Manchester, which was, at the time, the hub of music - the second summer of love. John Cale produced Happy Monday's debut album Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Carnt Smile (White Out), and John Leckie on The Stone Roses eponymous album. Two well known producers, creating a vibe, a sound that's been taken and worn out, stitched back together, and placed in the history books since 1987. The wave of popular alternative dance and acid house was born in Manchester, and taken to Glasgow in 1991 for Screamadelica. Why does this matter? you ask. It matters more than you could ever imagine - Jagwar Ma, Django Django, and Hot Chip can back me up on this. Artists have taken this sound formed during the praised 'madchester' period, and used it to their advantage, from Chicago, to Glasgow, to London, to Sydney, and to Melbourne. This music takes us on a journey, much like the proclaimed journey of the psychedelic drugs LSD and MDMA. Cut Copy are the latest artist to pop up with a 87' - 91' influenced sound reminiscent of those Screamadelica album tracks taken from the psychedelic 60s à la The 13th Floor Elevators. With Free Your Mind, it begins at 0:00 and never fails to entertain and bring the listener back till the album is over. The 20 second synthesizer sample saying: "Free your mind, free your mind," is enough to realise what this album details. It's the coolness of a sunset stroll, enjoying the natural aspects of life with great music playing.

Titular single "Free Your Mind" energises and defines Cut Copy's fourth studio album. Vocalist Dan Whitford has never had the strongest of vocals, but when multi-layered with synthesizer swoops and loud, gospel-esque piano stabs, his voice becomes something of an attraction. There’s little depth in Whitford's singing as such, but with "Free Your Mind", the music behind him is enough to tell the audience what he, Cut Copy, and Free Your Mind is all about. Its been produced by famed Lips and Rev producer Dave Fridmann, to add that psychedelia imagery and texture to Cut Copy's sound. Fridmann has spotted weaknesses in Cut Copy's sound and decided to patch them up with the same instruments that earned Primal Scream the first Mercury Prize in 1992. To follow this up - "We Are Explorers". The third track completely avenges LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy's retirement of that project. Cut Copy are using their synthesizers, lighter and heavier than usual, to create a trance-like sound that's both perfect for late night listening, and party dance music. And Cut Copy continue to progress their sound and future with a house track in the shape of "Let Me Show You". It has the synthesizer note riff powerful enough to come across as a post-1980 Suicide riff, with Whitford's reverberated vocals akin to Alan Vega. This is the first splash of Free Your Mind Cut Copy fans would have been heard, and the structure, direction, and total control of the track shows a certain dignity and conformation that the Australian quartet are not afraid to upset even their longest of supporters to follow the music they love.

90 seconds of "Into The Desert" is enough to confuse the listener into believing this is actually Cut Copy's composition and not one of Brian Eno's back catalogue.  The twinkling sounds that represent waves and rain drops are very much alike Balam Acab. It plays in to "Footsteps", the four and  half minute 90s euro dance club anthem. It's reminiscent of the rave scenes from The Hacienda in Manchester. There’s a great synthesizer flanger riff, with the hard hitting squishy bass found on the old Chicago acid house recordings that were created with a Roland TB-303. Cut Copy are very much playing to the 80s / 90s kid with Free Your Mind. It's not all pure baggy / madchester music, as "In Memory Capsule" takes listeners back to Cut Copy's earlier days.

It's the vocal cuts, such as on "Into The Desert" and "Above The City" are samples from movies, to which, I don't know. They act as breaks, interludes, crossovers / skits for the more defining tracks. "Dark Corners Mountain Tops" is one of the standout tracks on Free Your Mind. It's the first sign of a drum kit focussing in, with an acoustic guitar and a pretty progression, which you would expect a music video of slow moving vehicles to be associated with it. There are still the general synthesizers and samples, such as the siren which runs through the background. This reminds me of an early M83, taking guitars and reverb to create electronic rock influenced by both shoegaze and glamorous ambient sounds. "Dark Corners Mountain Tops" is out of character for Cut Copy, it's a track nobody was expecting, first for the live drum kit percussion, and second for the harmonics most akin to The Beach Boys. 

Free Your Mind is the rightful follow-up to Primal Scream's Screamadelica. Cut Copy are taking in all aspects of sound and influences, using their knowledge with three fabulous electronic albums to create what is essentially an acid house / alternative dance masterpiece. "Take Me Higher" is a nod to Primal Scream's "Higher Than The Sun", and least likely, but perhaps a sly nod to Sly & The Family Stone's psychedelic soul single "I Wanna Take You Higher". It's another banger, featuring on an album with no filler, only killer dance tunes for those wanting a break from their lives. The clear piano riff comes back, with effect, really emphasising the instruments use alongside psychedelic reverberated synthesizers and layered vocals. Where the classic house instrumentals were profusely minimal, Cut Copy does the opposite with Free Your Mind. They're maxed out on every track, even the segues are plastered with openings and closings of tracks. Perhaps the biggest and most historic fused track on Free Your Mind is the 10th track "Meet Me In A House of Love". Apart from its artistic title; the musical content blows the concept out in the open. Whitford sings: "Once I was lost, but in this house I can be found," a coy pun towards the genre they're emulating, and the album title - Free Your Mind. After all, this is what it's all about. Cut Copy are attempting to open our minds through the medium of music, allowing us to interpret their music in any way we see possible. That's the feeling transmitted with these back album tracks, especially on the penultimate track which is the essential closer "Walking In The Sky". Again, Whitford sings a lyric closely related to the albums concept: "You've got to live your life today, tomorrow is a world away." An uplifting closer to complete a set of songs which all point to space rock themes. "Walking In The Sky", "Above The City", "Free Your Mind", "Take Me Higher" - they're all pointing upwards, towards the heavens ("Movin' On Up", "Higher Than The Sun", "Shine Like Stars".) Cut Copy's Free Your Mind is as religiously inclined and directed at a greater being, as Spiritualized in 1997. And nobody can miss the blatant Primal Scream / The 13th Floor Elevators references throughout this album, especially on "Meet Me In A House of love" ("Slip Inside This House").

Free Your Mind is made up of nine key bulky tracks, all of which are superb and memorable. The five interludes / outros are integral to the overall feel and flow of Cut Copy's fourth album. Without them, it would just be a compilation of alternative dance recordings. It's these tracks featuring vocal samples like "Mantra" and "Above The City" that completes the picture. Free Your Mind isn't quite flawless of course. There are elements on "Let Me Show You Love" that Cut Copy maybe could have done without, such as the opening siren sounds which are recurring in this track. Then there are the synthesizer stabs, which at times sound more like 00s trance than 80s / 90s house. It's always difficult to pull off an album so blatantly taken from previous albums and eras. Allah-Las tried to release a surf rock album influenced by the simple west coast 60s, the outcome was poor. Jake Bugg attempted to re-create a Dylan / Oasis fused album, which also came out poor. Cut Copy needed to add their own plaque, in order for this album to come across more than just a cut and paste copy. It's actually Whitford's vocals that put Free Your Mind on the board as one of 2013's best albums. Cut Copy are thinking above and beyond with Free Your Mind, they needed to advance their sound and not be stuck behind a bridge after their last two efforts were received with unlimited praise. Long-time fans of Cut Copy might not like this, they might not even get this; that's all for their minds to accept or dismiss. Having cited Screamadelica as one of our (MRD) favourite albums, it's no wonder that Free Your Mind is sticking. They've broken a 2013 gimmick, and at the same time taken the aging sound of house and sprayed an array of freshener over it. The self-titled track is nothing short of genius, and "Take Me Higher"  may just be the best Cut Copy track to date. Free Your Mind is another example at how a band can create an era, a sound, an idea - like Bobby Gillespie and his posse in the 90s. The concept, may not be an outspoken one, but it's intentional. Cut Copy, having played the genre for a decade, are freeing up their choices and direction, and at the same time are teaching audiences to… - Free Your Mind, as the album cover so blatantly shows.
~Eddie Gibson 


Originally posted by Eddie on The National Student.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

R.I.P. Lou Reed - A True Genius

Jesus, help me find my proper place, Jesus, help me find my proper place. Help me in my weakness, because I'm falling out of grace - "Jesus".
~Lou Reed

Friday, 25 October 2013

Discovery: Allyson Ezell - Pick It Up

Allyson Ezell is relatively new to the game, so please music scene don't introduce her to cocaine - like Amy Winehouse and her rehabilitation lyrical influences. It was sour grapes occupying her wild hair as she used to pinch her nose to take a hit. We seem to slay vocal talents far too often in the UK, it's ever to easy to destroy ones reputation and career with the powerful believable British media. In just one 300 word review, Alexandra Burke either makes it, or crashes down and starts covering Leonard Cohen in London pubs. Reality TV talent shows idolise imagery, where they use persuasion like Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine. Let's not forget the many controversies and huge embarrassing errors they've failed to control and cement over in the past decade - and what is it about Teesside that makes vocalists popular? Winehouse was just another female soul being berated with comments from the press, but her death was unfortunate as her talent completely outweighed her public lifestyle.

Ezell has a voice akin to Duffy, Este Haim, and Miss Winehouse. It's a deep, sultry vocal, with emphasis on the Jazz vocalists past - Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. Ezell's past is a story to be told. She's Iowa born, then bypassed New York to reside in Paris - it's the story Lana Del Ray craves for. Ezell now lives in France, but that hasn't taken away her Americanisms as heard with her second song "Pick It Up", after her first, "The Fire Takes", outlined her mission.


"Pick It Up" sounds more like a stripped back Vampire Weekend than anything else. I'm imagining the soft vocal hushes of "Ya Hey", while listening to the similar vocals on Ezell's "Pick It Up". There's a defining percussion aspect which is both stark and open. It's spacious, allowing room for synthesizers and vocals to contain more than the regular accompaniment - where the voice is used as an instrument. Ezell sings the refrain with her own backing vocals, layered and delayed to create a choir effect, as the breakdown also suggests this choir feel. The production has been carried out by MaJiKer, and you can hear the composition coming together in the final third, with the deep note piano being introduced. Splendid vocal arrangement, fitting of the lyrical theme and structure. The beat is simplistic, and couldn't match the structure any better than it does. It doesnt matter what genre, lifestyle, or past Ezell rides on, it's her voice that will carry her.
~Eddie Gibson

Pop Corner: Taylor Swift - Sweeter Than Fiction

From the earworm-infested "We Are Never Getting Back Together", to the dubstep-lite "I Knew You Were Trouble", and arena-sized "State of Grace"; Taylor Swift looked like she was getting ever so closer to dropping the '-country' suffix from her pop repertoire.

Her newest song "Sweeter Than Fiction" only provides further evidence. From the start, its 80s new-wave influence certainly comes a long way from the girl who released a song called "Tim McGraw" back in 2006 -but it's a very natural trajectory from 2012's eclectic Red, and Swift's knack for sugary choruses shines through, even though it lacks a lot of the confessional nature of her stronger material and isn't the most distinctive hook she's penned either.

Jack Antonoff (most notably of fun. fame - along with band mate Nate Ruess who's also been infiltrating the pop mainstream) lends a song-writing credit and a bouncy, yet country-esque, guitar solo which gives a nice variety away from the synths.

The lyrics itself tell a story of endurance in the face of opposition and success: taking shots, standing tall, you made us proud, etc. Swift does take on some perplexing imagery when it comes to: "Eyes, wider than distance," and whatever that's supposed to mean (the more I try to think about it, the more disturbing it becomes). But all in all, very appealing fodder for her target audience and casual listeners as well as in context of the upcoming film One Chance, regarding Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts. Being non-British and generally inattentive to whatever country has talent, I don't quite know who that is. Nonetheless, I have no trouble seeing "Sweeter Than Fiction" being a feel-good hit on the personal soundtracks for those of us without biopics.
~Jonathan Hites