Swift provides girlish charm, subtle maturity on Red
Almost two years after the pop-country starâs third album, Speak Now, Taylor Swift returns to the music scene with Red, an album that reflects the singer-songwriterâs ever-evolving musical identity.
Though Swift herself is clearly recognizable as the starry-eyed, hopelessly romantic darling of the music world, much of her career has reflected a certain musical ambiguity. Her eponymous 2006 album firmly categorized her as a country artist with songs such as âTim McGrawâ and âPicture to Burn,â featuring allusions to iconic country singers and descriptions of âGeorgia starsâ and âpick-up trucksâ â all standard country music tropes.
But Swiftâs follow-up releases Fearless and Speak Now illustrated a crossover to the pop charts. Hits such as âLove Storyâ and âSpeak Nowâ might have featured Swiftâs characteristic, light-hearted country vocals, but up-tempo percussion beats and plodding guitar lines also hinted at subtle rock influences. Though Swift possesses six Country Music Awards, her success in the genre hardly seems appropriate: She doesnât fit into that box quite so neatly.
Red seems just as musically diverse but not in a bad way. The 16-track album dabbles in multiple genres and succeeds in just about all of them. Swiftâs latest release is unpredictable â at least in terms of musical style.
âI Knew You Were Troubleâ stands out as decidedly electronic. Though the song begins with a pop-rock guitar riff, it quickly shifts to a danceable vibe when the beat drops in the chorus. Swift enhances the head-bobbing quality of the song with impressive vocals that shift effortlessly between high and low notes. Even if âI Knew You Were Troubleâ provides a different tone than the rest of Red, it calls attention to itself as one of the albumâs best tracks and should garner attention as a single in the not-so-distant future.
Still, this dance-inspired track comes after Swift has introduced several other genres on her latest work. Opener âState of Graceâ jumpstarts the album with a hard-rock tone. Driving drum beats dominate soft instrumentals before a lazy guitar line echoes Swiftâs drawn-out vocal melodies. Thereâs a definite energy in the first song of Red, as crashing cymbals and the syncopated vocals of background singers enhance a track thatâs already kicked off the album to a nice pace. Here, Swift proves she handles rock well, paying homage to the genreâs major characteristics even as she maintains her own signature charm.
But by the time she hits track three, Swift has switched back to her country roots. âTreacherousâ slows things down with repetitive acoustic guitar chords that put the focus on Swiftâs drawling vocals and well-crafted lyrics. Perfectly timed decrescendos ease Swift back into verses where she describes sexually-charged scenes through lines, such as âIâll do anything you say / if you say it with your hands,â and âAll we are is skin and bone / trained to get along.â
Thereâs a subtle maturity on tracks like âTreacherousâ and the similarly descriptive songs âAll Too Wellâ and âSad Beautiful Tragic.â Swift has gone from channeling fairy-tale metaphors of princes and white horses to crafting her own moments of amorous danger. Itâs a welcome change from a singer notorious for recording the exact beginning, middle and end of her short-lived relationships with a diary-style openness. On Red, Swift has broken her habit of relying on the names of her beaus (âHey Stephen,â âDear Johnâ) in favor of capturing the emotional intensity of her romantic encounters.
But even as she demonstrates lyrical and musical growth, Swift has managed to maintain characteristic schoolgirl charm and unabashed innocence. âRed,â the albumâs titular track, features an appropriate blend of Swiftâs idealism and mature complexity. The song contains some of Redâs most clever lyrics, demonstrating Swiftâs newfound ability to capture a wide range of emotions in a just a few measures.
âLosing him was blue, like Iâd never known / missing him was dark gray, all alone / forgetting him was like trying to know somebody youâve never met / but loving him was red,â Swift sings, stringing together a series of simple but effective metaphors. On tracks like these, itâs easy to believe Swift is channeling a variety of life-changing romantic experiences instead of a series of shallow, high-school-crush episodes.
Swift truly impresses with the albumâs tenth track, âThe Last Timeâ (featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol). Swiftâs even mezzo meshes perfectly with Lightbodyâs hazy intonation in a series of chilling vocal harmonies underscored by violins and dragging drums.
âThis is the last time Iâm asking you this,â Swift and Lightbody sing. âPut my name at the top of your list / This is the last time Iâm asking you why / you break my heart in the blink of an eye.â
With this track, Swift provides a clear glimpse into the future of her music: lyrically profound, melodically haunting and comfortably adult.
Still, with Red, Swift hasnât quite solidified her more mature image. Tracks like â22â and âStarlightâ are downright goofy and careless. Poppy, synth-tinged instrumentals underscore Swiftâs half-shouted-half-sung vocals while forgettable lyrics like âI said oh my, what a marvelous tune / it was the best nightâ fail to hold the listenerâs attention.
The same rings true for Redâs first single âWe Are Never Getting Back Together.â Though the track debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it contains all of the immaturity of former hits like âMeanâ and âThe Story of Us,â but lacks the vengeful spite of âPicture to Burnâ and âBetter Than Revenge.â
âSo he calls me up, and heâs like, âI still love you,â gushes Swift valley girl-style in a faux-phone conversation. âI mean this is exhausting, you know? Like we are never getting back together. Like, ever.â
But the childishness of âWe Are Never Getting Back Together,â â22â and âStarlightâ does serve a higher purpose on Red.
âThis album is about the other kinds of love that Iâve recently fallen in and out of,â Swift writes in the prologue included in the Redâs CD booklet. âLove that was treacherous, sad, beautiful, and tragic. But most of all, this record is about love that was red.â
If Swiftâs goal here was to chronicle the multifarious nature of love, she succeeded. With her fourth album, Swift proves that she is capable of successfully relating a wide variety of emotions and experiences â including the immature ones.
Red proves to be a more than worthy addition to Swiftâs discography, and we can bet that it certainly wonât be âThe Last Timeâ she pleasantly surprises us.