On ‘The Tortured Poets Department,’ Taylor Swift Could Use an Editor

If there has been a common thread — an invisible string, if you will — connecting the last few years of Taylor Swift’s output, it has been abundance.

Nearly 20 years into her career, Swift, 34, is more popular and prolific than ever, sating her ravenous fan base and expanding her cultural domination with a near-constant stream of music — five new albums plus four rerecorded ones since 2019 alone. Her last LP, “Midnights” from 2022, rolled out in multiple editions, each with its own extra songs and collectible covers. Her record-breaking Eras Tour is a three-and-a-half-hour marathon featuring 40-plus songs, including the revised 10-minute version of her lost-innocence ballad “All Too Well.” In this imperial era of her long reign, Swift has operated under the guiding principle that more is more.

What Swift reveals on her sprawling and often self-indulgent 11th LP, “The Tortured Poets Department,” is that this stretch of productivity and commercial success was also a tumultuous time for her, emotionally. “I can read your mind: ‘She’s having the time of her life,’” Swift sings on “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart,” a percolating track that evokes the glitter and adoration of the Eras Tour but admits, “All the pieces of me shattered as the crowd was chanting ‘more.’” And yet, that’s exactly what she continues to provide, announcing two hours after the release of “Poets” that — surprise! — there was a second “volume” of the album, “The Anthology,” featuring 15 additional, though largely superfluous, tracks.

Gone are the character studies and fictionalized narratives of Swift’s 2020 folk-pop albums “Folklore” and “Evermore.” The feverish “Tortured Poets Department” is a full-throated return to her specialty: autobiographical and sometimes spiteful tales of heartbreak, full of detailed, referential lyrics that her fans will delight in decoding.

Swift doesn’t name names, but she drops plenty of boldfaced clues about exiting a long-term cross-cultural relationship that has grown cold (the wrenching “So Long, London”), briefly taking up with a tattooed bad boy who raises the hackles of the more judgmental people in her life (the wild-eyed “But Daddy I Love Him”) and starting fresh with someone who makes her sing in — ahem — football metaphors (the weightless “The Alchemy”). The subject of the most headline-grabbing track on “The Anthology,” a fellow member of the Tortured Billionaires Club whom Swift reimagines as a high school bully, is right there in the title’s odd capitalization: “thanK you aIMee.”

At times, the album is a return to form. Its first two songs are potent reminders of how viscerally Swift can summon the flushed delirium of a doomed romance. The opener, “Fortnight,” a pulsing, synth-frosted duet with Post Malone, is chilly and controlled until lines like “I love you, it’s ruining my life” inspire the song to thaw and glow. Even better is the chatty, radiant title track, on which Swift’s voice glides across smooth keyboard arpeggios, self-deprecatingly comparing herself and her lover to more daring poets before concluding, “This ain’t the Chelsea Hotel, we’re modern idiots.” Many Swift songs get lost in dense thickets of their own vocabulary, but here the goofy particularity of the lyrics — chocolate bars, first-name nods to friends, a reference to the pop songwriter Charlie Puth?! — is strangely humanizing.

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