Lately I’ve noticed a recurring weakness in my critical faculties. (I’m sure there are other weak spots, I’m merely referring to a specific weak spot.) I am inclined to 1) praise albums that have been widely dismissed by other critics because 2) they happen to be borderline disasters.
That is the unsympathetic take, anyway. I believe the albums in question are beautiful, fascinating messes — rather than dismiss them out of hand, I feel compelled to defend them as noble experiments that aren’t wholly successful, even if it seems like I’m praising dumpster fires for the warmth they provide.
Regarding Taylor Swift’s Reputation, I conceded that the superstar’s latest effort is “a cold, convoluted, often surly record, heavily weighted with overly complicated prog-R&B arrangements, awkward attempts at rapping, and lyrics that underline every reference to Swift’s casual hook-ups and late-night binge-drinking.” But I also appreciated those flaws as signs of humanity from an artist whose meticulously curated public image seemed impenetrable at the height of 1989-mania. “For the first time in years, Swift seems like a rather ordinary human being,” I concluded, “with all the unattractive flaws and nagging hang-ups that suggests.”
For Justin Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods, an album that was prepped to be burned in effigy by critics weeks before it was released, I pointed out the record’s numerous flaws: “The lyrics are dumb, the ballads are corny, it’s about 20 minutes too long, and I don’t know that a top 10 list of Timberlake songs would include anything from this record.” But, again, I found that the weaknesses of Man Of The Woods helped to make Timberlake seem more vulnerable. Coming after the swaggering genius moves of his bloated 20/20 Experience albums, Man Of The Woods was appealingly “intimate and modest” in comparison.