Taylor Swift Sounds Confident, Mature And Melancholy on "Red"

First, I readily, happily admit that I am a Taylor Swift fan, so if you are looking for a purely objective review of her new album, you won’t find it here.

Okay. Now, on to the review.

It took four studio albums, but Taylor Swift has finally written her ‘break up album’. Oh sure, all of her albums have breakup songs {most famously, “Dear John” from 2010’s ‘Speak Now’], but with her latest effort, titled ‘Red’, Taylor explores the pain, regret and even wistfulness of love found and love lost. It’s a theme that colors all sixteen songs and, despite some great moments of pop and dance, the mood is melancholy.

That the various stages of relationships are covered in song should surprise no one. Also, it really shouldn’t surprise her fans that this album is mostly ‘pop’ and not very ‘country’, though if country radio is smart, they will play any and all songs they can from what is sure to be another platinum seller. (In fact, I bet Swift breaks her own record and sells over one million copies in the initial week). Genres don’t really matter when an album sells, everyone wants a part of it, so you’ll be just as likely to hear a song from ‘Red’ on the Top 40 pop radio station as well as country radio.

The opener, “State of Grace” has huge guitars in an obvious nod to U2, “I Knew You Were Trouble” sounds like it could be a Katy Perry tune, and the title track ‘Red’ has a vocal effect on the chorus that sounds like something I heard on the last Lady GaGa record. Even with these moments that bring to mind other artists, what sets this album apart from most, even from Taylor’s other releases is the confidence and self-assuredness in her lyrics and vocals. She’s at the top of her game.

Unlike 2010’s “Speak Now”, which saw Taylor write all of the songs by herself, with “Red” she’s back collaborating with some big names. Max Martin, who co-wrote and produced the album’s lead single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” has worked with Justin Timberlake, Britney and Kelly Clarkson, just to name a few. Dan Wilson, who co-wrote ‘Treacherous”, also co-wrote tracks on Adele’s Grammy-winning ’21’ disc. The most welcome name though for me is co-writer Liz Rose, who helped Swift pen ‘You Belong With Me’ and ‘Fearless’ in 2008. For “Red”, Rose and Swift write what I think is the album’s strongest track, ‘All Too Well’, a song that I assume is about the infamous relationship Taylor had with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, which began just before Thanksgiving 2010 and was over before Taylor’s 21st birthday that December. But, unlike other songs in her catalog, Taylor doesn’t name drop here. Instead, she paints a very vivid picture of the pain and heartache that follows any breakup, and notes how most of us save at least one keepsake from a past relationship, even if it’s against our better judgement.

While I feel the album’s overall tone is somewhat  sad, there are still some upbeat, even funny moments. “Stay, Stay, Stay” is a song with such a catchy chorus that I dare you not to sing along before the song ends. A bit of Taylor laughing after finishing a vocal take is included, which only adds to the fun. “22” and the aforementioned ‘I Knew You Were Trouble” are made for the dance clubs, suitable for remixing by DJs. And the album’s closing track, ‘Begin Again’ leaves the listener on a hopeful, positive note that love will find us once more.

There’s a lot here, a lot to take in, and even though the theme is constant throughout, it never gets boring or predictable. On a personal note, for me, the song that has been on repeat the most today has been ‘I Almost Do.’ While I’m not mourning an ordinary breakup, the lyrics sum up my mood right now in much the same way “You Belong With Me’ spoke to me on a very personal level when I heard it for the first time. It doesn’t matter if you’re fifteen, twenty-two or thirty-nine years old, if you’ve loved with everything you had, and then survived the breakup, there’s something on this album you will identify with.

As a listener, that’s the moment when you rediscover why you love music.

RED – Taylor Swift

State of Grace
Red
Treacherous
I Knew You Were Trouble
All Too Well
22
I Almost Do
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Stay Stay Stay
The Last Time (featuring Gary Lightbody)
Holy Ground
Sad Beautiful Tragic
The Lucky One
Everything Has Changed (featuring Ed Sheeran)
Starlight
Begin Again

Target Deluxe Edition Bonus Tracks:
The Moment I Knew
Come Back… Be Here
Girl At Home
Treacherous (Original Demo Recording)
Red (Original Demo Recording)
State Of Grace (Acoustic Version)

Thanks for reading,
Barry