Taylor Swift, ‘Red’ – Album Review
Taylor Swift has rightfully earned her worshipped status as the poet laureate of teen girls. When she speaks, they listen intently, with no breaks in concentration. Swift wields power and magic over them, simply by being one of them. She’s alternately gorgeous, awkward, geek chic and approachable.
On her fourth album ‘Red,’ Swift remains diary-honest and confessional, laying her emotional cards face up in lieu of a pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa poker face. Right here is where we’d normally point out that despite that reference to a fellow pop star, Swift is far removed from typical pop sonics and synths.
But we can’t say that about ‘Red.’ She experiments. She tries new things. She has largely stepped away from the country sounds of her past. She still straddles the line between country and pop, and is of course pop country, but she continues to walk the tight rope towards the pop end of the line. In sensible ballet flats, of course!
Overall, the album is a mixed bag of emotions and sounds. Yes, there a few twangy country ballads and there are lots of upbeat pop numbers. There’s “dance like a maniac with your girlfriends” tracks. There’s a pair of duets with indie rock dudes. Swift has multiple musical personalities and she doesn’t try to medicate, bury or deny them. Instead, she fully indulges each one.
At 16 tracks, ‘Red’ is long, but given the disciple-like devotion Swifties have for their heroine, there is no room for fatigue.
We have a a feeling by the time Swift is done promoting ‘Red,’ she will be a full-fledged pop star with humble country roots, instead of a country superstar playing with pop.
1. ‘State of Grace’
The album opens with Taylor attempting sprawling indie rock. The song is drum-driven and she’s been blindsided by love. She expresses it via expansive sprawl that was probably inspired by Radiohead but ends up sounding like she listens to a lot of Coldplay. It’s a lush, dreamy song, not typical Taylor at all. When she sings, “I never saw you coming / And I’ll never be the same,” she sounds full of wide-eyed wonder, both lyrical and sonically. [Listen Here]
The chorus is uncharacteristically Auto-tuned, and it’s a different shade for her. The song advances the idea that moving on from him is impossible, and she captures that feeling and disperses it via song. It’s dirt road Taylor in some parts, thanks to the banjo-like strumming and an automotive metaphor. She throws us off with the choppy chorus, where she sings, “Loving him is r-r-r-red.” Think Faith Hill, with a little more sass. [Listen Here]
There is enough twang in the guitars of this tender ballad to satisfy Swift’s country fanbase. When she croons, “I’d be smart to walk away / But you’re quicksand,” she exposes a nerve. She knows he’s not good for her but she can’t help herself. She delivers her lyrics in a delicate voice, backed by strumming and handclaps. When she sings, “Gravity is too much,” we are reminded us of “Gravity wins again” and we can’t believe we’ve hit our second Radiohead reference in one Taylor Swift review. Note: We don’t mean “sounds like!”
4. ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’
This song is built on an uptempo vibe and repetitive lyrics, like “You found me me me me,” that sail over a synthy beat. Hanging out with hip-hoppers like B.o.B has resulted in some influence in her music. The song has a nursery rhyme cadence, due to the repetition. It’s a cute track. [Listen Here]
5. ‘All Too Well’
After turning things up a notch, Swift easily slips back into the more melancholic, confessional ballad. Sonically, it’s spare, yet it’s lyrically stuffed and dense with details. Example: “I left my scarf at your sister’s house.” It’s another country moment for ‘Red,’ which shows itself to be an album full of pop declarations. Damn if it’s not catchy, though!
The song starts out with an acoustic guitar, but quickly escalates into a fun anthem for sleepover parties. There is some requisite twang, which again might appeal to her country base, but this sounds penned for the teens when she sings about being “happy, free, confused and lonely” at the same time. It has the same cadence and energy as ‘WANEGBT’ and some Avril Lavigne-style sass. There is a self-referential sound bite and a clip of the phone ringing.
7. ‘I Almost Do’
In this twanged out, country song, Swift wants an ex back, but she holds back. It’s all about restraint and engaging in push and pull with herself. It’s the most lyrically complex of the songs on ‘Red,’ and it is certainly contemplative. If Swift set up a Google Alert for reviews on ‘Red’ — which is her style — we hope she sees our comments on this song.
8. ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’
This crazy catchy hit could be looked back upon as the song that fully crossed T. Swizzle from country to pop. This the most dazzling and polished, not to mention pop, that she’s ever sounded. Go ahead. Try and deny that this doesn’t make you dance like a fool when you think no one is watching. And for the record, our money is on Jake Gyllenhaal being the subject matter. [Listen Here]
9. ‘Stay Stay Stay’
For the second time on the album, Swift goes indie rock, incorporating bells, handclaps and a girlish swing into the song. She rips on the “self-indulgent takers” she has been in relationships with, but she tempers the lyrical venom by being extra cutesie pie on a sonic level.
10. ‘The Last Time’
Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol teams up with Taylor, and they go the darkly romantic route on this song. It’s the most mature and adult contemporary track on the record, and if worked correctly by her label, it could introduce Swift to a whole other world of fans and radio programmers, not to mention injecting her with a dose of credibility. It’s also sort of epic. She does pair up nicely with others (see her work with The Civil Wars on ‘Safe & Sound‘ for further, non-‘Red’ proof!). It reminds us of those larger-than-life, male-female duets of the ’80s — think Cher and Peter Cetera, Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton — where the two voices were key. In that regard, it’s a throwback to that era of duets.
11. ‘Holy Ground’
Time to dance your face off, ladies! It’s fast, pulsating and uber catchy. You’ll sing-along while you are swinging your hair back and forth like a whirling dervish. Grab a hairbrush and sing in front of a mirror, girls. This one is for you.
12. ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’
Sigh. This is a weepy, sensitive ballad that ruminates on a love lost. It’s best listened to on an iPod, with earbuds nestled in your ears, so you can fully appreciate all of its lush glory. It’s also a perfect example of why Swift is the poet laureate of the teen girl set. She takes their emotions and installs them into lyrics. It’s so pretty it hurts. You’ll need a mood elevator after listening to this one, since it’ll push every heartbreak you’ve ever stuffed down or gotten over back to the forefront of your mind.
13. ‘The Lucky One’
Here, T. Swizzle offers up a slinky groove and a fun, tap-tap beat, but she pairs it with a heart-heavy topic. That seems ot be par for the course with many songs on ‘Red.’ She balances levity with depth, and it’s executed in flawless fashion.
14. ‘Everything Has Changed’
Swift goes acoustic (again) and layers her vocals with that of Ed Sheeran. They have chemistry that crackles, but it’s decidedly not in your face. It’s very measured and carefully balanced. The strength of this song makes us think she should consider releasing a full album of duets (eventually) since she plays nicely with others. Yes, this is as gorgeous as the singer herself.
There’s a looped beat underneath, but for the most part, ‘Starlight’ operates off the same battery as the title track. Her vivid lyrics, sprinkled with references to yacht club parties, paint a picture and tell a tale. That’s her poetry right there, hence the poet laureate status. It’s frothy and fluffy, and just might cause a cavity.
16. ‘Begin Again’
The finger picking of the guitars, combined with her breathy voice, make this song so remarkable. Due to its honky-tonk twang, you can envision Swift, with a guitar strapped to her person, performing in an empty watering hole. The song is like burning embers left over from a raging fire — it’ll keep you warm. [Listen Here]
Watch the Taylor Swift ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ Video