Record reviews

Taylor Swift

Album: “Reputation”

Grade: A

If you’d stop thinking about her reputation, you’d actually appreciate the musicality of Taylor Swift’s “reputation.”

Sure, she named the album that so there will be blog posts and essays deciphering the lyrics – was that about Kanye? Calvin? – but listen to the music, and you’ll discover pure pop magic.

On 2014’s “1989,” Swift showed she could deliver great pop songs. On “reputation,” her sixth album and second pop effort, she has mastered it.

The production level has enhanced, with little nuanced sounds throughout the album – including use of the vocoder – giving the tracks additional appeal. A good number of the 15 songs are bass heavy and beat-laden, while Swift tells the story of her life in the last two years – going from tabloid drama to falling in love.

She’s striking on the exceptional “End Game,” veering into contemporary R&B territory. Co-stars include rap hitmaker Future and Ed Sheeran, who is sing-rapping in the style he performed before you fell in love with “Thinking Out Loud.”

Like the singles “... Ready for It?” and “Look What You Made Me Do,” other tracks on the album have similar flair and a big sound, including “Don’t Blame Me,” “Getaway Car,” “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and “King of My Heart.”

Riding those big beats are the lyrics – Swift’s specialty. Some of the words hit hard like gunshots.

“If a man talks sh-- then I owe him nothing/I don’t regret it one bit ‘cause he had it coming,” Swift sings on “I Did Something Bad.”

But the album isn’t all boom boom pow and big beats. Closing track “New Year’s Eve” is soft, stripped and slowed down, reminisicent of some of Swift’s earlier work. “Gorgeous” and “Call It What You Want” also even out the gigantic sound of the album.

“Reputation” also showcases a more sensual side of Swift. The performer with “that good girl faith and a tight little skirt” sings about scratches on her lover’s back on “So It Goes ...,” and a man’s hand in her hair on “Delicate,” one of the brightest spots on the album.

—Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

Kid Rock

Album: “Sweet Southern Sugar”

Grade: A

Getting your new album noticed these days seems to involve elaborate publicity stunts and social media gimmicks, but Kid Rock upped the ante this fall – he flirted with a run for U.S. Senate. Even Taylor Swift hasn’t gone that far.

The Detroit rocker was, of course, just pulling our leg and now that “Sweet Southern Sugar” is out, it’s pretty clear that Kid Rock should have just let the music speak for itself. The faux senator has got himself a darn good album here.

The 10 strong tracks have Kid Rock’s signature stew of Southern rock, rap and country, layered with expletive-laden lyrics that evoke Old Glory patriotism, Don’t-Step-on-Me cockiness and a celebration of redneck culture. It’s sweet all right, with just enough sour to keep it interesting.

There are satisfying arena-ready rockers such as “Greatest Show on Earth,” “American Rock ‘n ‘Roll” and “Stand the Pain” along with proud Southern-fried tunes such as “Tennessee Mountain Top” and the playful, bluesy “Raining Whiskey.”

Kid Rock, whose real name is Robert Ritchie, never expressly discusses politics, but he clearly revels in his political incorrectness. “I’m a thrift store of filth/I was built to enrage,” he sings. “I’m a mountain of fame/the last of my kind.”

His rock-rap anthem “Grandpa’s Jam” – yes, the Kid is now a grandpa – bizarrely name-checks Taylor Swift, J. Paul Getty, Wolfgang Puck, the Doobie Brothers, Chelsea Handler and the Yeti. You kind of have to give him props, even as you chuckle.

In that song, he gets angry at if he’s called “white trash” but he also celebrates Southern cliches elsewhere, especially in “Po-Dunk,” where there’s “Bible by the bed and a bottle sittin’ pretty” and a “house full of youngins and a yard full of junk.”

—Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

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