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October 27, 2014 8:34 PM

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We thought we had Swift mostly figured out – the type of music she made, what inspires her the most, the album liner notes decoding process, even executive-producing 1989 with Top 40 wunderkind Max Martin. And though she may vowed that one day she’d escape small-town living, we couldn’t have predicted that Taylor would channel Phil Collins, Annie Lennox, Like A Prayer-era Madonna and even some peers to show that finally, she’s relocated to the big city of her dreams. 1989 is bold and brazenly confident, and it makes previous forays into pop like “I Knew You Were Trouble” sound like child’s play in comparison.

Swift’s key strengths, an ear for melody and an eye for writerly detail, are still at play here: “Out of the Woods” is an urgent sing-along that sounds like it belongs to The Lion King, though who else but Swift would think to time-stamp such a song (“Looking back at it now, last December, we were b...

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