Taylor Swift – Red

Taylor Swift – Red

4/5

2012

You don’t even have to listen to Red to know that Taylor Swift is trying something new here—just look at the cover. Her name isn’t handwritten. Her face is obscured in shadow. She has bangs. All this screams that the 22-year-old Swift wants to be taken more seriously, and after her dear-diary breakup songs pigeonholed her as an eternal teenager, who could blame her? But as the lead single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” indicates, Swift isn’t ready to give up her bread and butter. Like her other records, Red is mainly packed with songs about regret, heartache and puppy love, her lyrics jumping between poignant, endearingly clumsy and just plain awkward.

Instead, what sets Red apart is how she finally makes the great leap from country to pop, successfully making the crossover like no one since Shania Twain. It’s something Swift was inching closer and closer to with each successive record, but what’s surprising is the extent to which she embraces new styles. She tries a little bit of everything, collaborating with Britney producer Max Martin for her forays into dance-pop (“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “22”) and faux-dubstep flourishes (“I Knew You Were Trouble”); she takes stabs at quirky indie pop (“Stay Stay Stay”) and melancholy, dreamy folk (“Sad Beautiful Tragic”), and finds the time to duet with Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody. Meanwhile, she draws on U2’s majestic stadium rock on the magnificent opener “State Of Grace,” where she shows a greater sense of dynamics than ever before.

But for all the musical adventurism, it’s still Swift who takes center stage, and she commits fully to her eclecticism in both her songwriting and performances. Other then the occasional banjo or lovelorn ballad, the only thing remotely “country” about Red is that she still lays all her sentiments on the surface, which bodes well for when she mines new lyrical territory like on the carefree yet conflicted “22” and the borderline paranoid “The Lucky One,” where she begins to doubt that there’s a happy ending to her Cinderella story. Since Red has no real musical center, it can sometimes come off as overlong or disjointed, since Swift doesn’t seem sure which direction she wants to head in. Yet even if it’s a transitional album, it’s an often superb one, catchy and captivating in equal measure. And if nothing else, that means that Swift is not only maturing as a person but maturing as an artist.

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Posted on November 14, 2012, in Taylor Swift and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Clearly Swift has a mind and way of her own – more power to her. That said, her music still doesn’t quite move me. But different things for different people

    • I agree that Taylor Swift has a mind and way of her own, however I personally have always been moved by her songs and think no different of this album.
      Although, different things for different people, right?

  2. I think she wants to be taken more seriously as a musician. But, I’m sorry, that lead single did her no justice. Her people couldn’t have chosen a more stereotypical Taylor Swift song if they tried. Also, the dubstep on her second single is really lame as well. I mean, come on could they be riding a trend even harder.
    If Ms. Swift really wants to be taken seriously as a musician, she would start writing songs solo, or at least with actual talented writers. Just because she is 22 doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a lot to say or even the fact that she grew up privileged. James Taylor spent summers in a country home but anyone could listen to his songs and still relate. As for her age, Fiona Apple was only 19 when “Tidal” came out yet she was able to talk about things that people in even their 60’s haven’t been through.
    But, hey, I’m no musician so maybe I’m completely wrong.

    Nice review though, it seemed very far and well written.

    • Oh yeah, I completely agree with you there. Taylor could stand to write about a lot more than what she does, and that’s my biggest complaint about her music, especially since the spots on this album where she veers away from relationships are some of the brightest moments. And yeah, I mean I also think that James Taylor and Fiona Apple are far greater musicians and songwriters than Swift, but they are also very different sorts of musicians, writing completely different sorts of songs.

      The fact of the matter is, unfortunately, pop artists since the ’80s are rarely taken seriously as musicians because their music relies so much on collaboration and the lyrics and music they explore are meant to be easily digested by a wide audience, so they usually offer very little that challenges the listener.

      But I mean, who knows? Maybe Swift will surprise us with her “Sweet Baby James” or “When The Pawn…,” but I’m not going to tear her down if she doesn’t always reach those lofty heights. To me, with “Red,” she wanted to make a catchy, relatable album that broadened her horizons, and I think she succeeded quite well on those counts.

      But, anyway, thanks for reading! 😀

      (And, oh yeah, with the exception of a couple tracks like the ones you mentioned, Swift does write all her songs solo.)

      • First off, thanks for correcting me on that writing credits. I checked Wikipedia and realized that she did write most of these songs solo, so kudos to her. Yeah, maybe comparing her to Fiona Apple was a stretch but the only reason I did that is because she claims to be a huge fan of her music. Seriously, she even has Rachael Yamagata lyrics framed hanging on her wall and has said she would love to do a collaboration with Imogen Heap. When those are your musical influences, I sort of can’t help but expect a little more from you.

        I actually listened to Red biased on your review, and actually enjoyed it a lot more then I thought I would. But, like you said in your review, the writing was a HUGE distraction for me. But when the album works, it works really well. I think what bothers me most about Taylor Swift is that she has all the goods for a talented singer/songwriter but I feel like she’s holding back.

        Yeah, and I don’t know why record executives think treading old water is going to make people buy more records. I can only speak for my generation, but we really don’t want to hear one more song about, “The one that got away” or “Falling in love for the first time.” I think that’s why Pop music has the bad rep. that it does. Since when has making the listener feel something new or something different been a bad thing. One of the biggest single in the country right now is a song that anyone who doesn’t speak Korean can’t understand. I could go on forever about this, but thanks for responding back to my comment.

        *correction. In my last post I meant to say, “Fair”.

  3. Enjoyed reading your write up, and I do think the Red Album (which I think had some top tracks on) could be the start of Taylor taking an exciting new direction with her music.

  4. I’m definitely not in Swift’s target audience, but I like her music. I suspect in a few years time as her style fully matures she will be seen as a great country rock singer.
    Maybe I’m dreaming but I think she has immense talent.

  1. Pingback: Taylor Swift – 1989 | Notes On Notes

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