The great thing about the release week of a new Taylor Swift CD is that everyone — that includes mega-fans, “which famous ex-boyfriend is this one about?” decoders, and outright haters — wants to talk about it. That’s just how it works when you’re one of the biggest stars on the planet.
This fact is especially true for Red, Swift’s latest album, which dropped yesterday. The disc finds the pop-country vixen pushing her musical boundaries further than ever before, and it’s causing a ruckus in the industry. “Country radio has been a little taken aback by it because it is so obviously pop,” Scott Borchetta, the President of Big Machine Records, Swift’s label, tells EW. “[But] we haven’t’ been hiding behind what she’s been doing.” he says. “She wrote this record with Max Martin, and Shelback, and it’s a big pop record with some country leaning.”
“We’d be in the studio,” Borchetta remembers, “and I’d say, ‘This record wants to do more than what you’re doing to it, and she’d say, ‘What do you mean?’ and I’d say, ‘If it’s country, run toward it, if it’s pop, run toward it, if it’s rock, run toward it. You have artistic license to do your music. I want to encourage you to go to the edges.'”
And go to the edges she did. Red finds Swift flirting with U2-esque arena rock on “State of Grace,” dubstep on “I Knew You Were Trouble,” Katy Perry party-pop on “22,” handclap-happy piano celebration on “Stay Stay Stay,” and crooning alongside Brit Ed Sheeran on “Everything Has Changed.”
It’s a lot to digest on a first listen, but now that you’ve had a whole day to process Red, let’s talk about the songs that work and the ones that don’t:
For me, the best song on the album is “All Too Well,” a lovely, strummy five-and-a-half minute breakup ballad. Every lyric in that song (and there are a lot of them) is loaded with evocative, tactile details of Swift thinking back on a failed Autumn romance (apparently with Jake “Maple Lattes” Gyllenhaal). She remembers, “Dancin’ ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” and how her ex “used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin size bed.”
But it’s not all sweet memories — the song climaxes with a powerful refrain in which Swift indicts her former beau: “You call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest.” The whole thing is classic T-Swift — which is to say, melodic, sad, probably overly emotional, but a well-woven story.
Other standouts include “I Knew You Were Trouble,” whose low-high-low-high cadence sizzles over a dancey beat, and “Everything Has Changed,” an ode to new romance that prettily echoes Sheeran’s own “Lego House.” And then there are the two singles, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “Begin Again,” both terrific for pretty much opposite reasons.
Not every track on Red is so successful. “Starlight” sounds like a rejected Owl City effort and features the line, “We could get married, have ten babies, and teach them how to dream.” It’s syrupy and silly. Meanwhile, “The Last Time,” a collaboration with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, is an outright slog that’s pulled down by heavy-handed production. And — this choice may be controversial — “Red” is a clunkily written pop tune that lacks a great pop hook.
Fortunately, the good certainly outweighs the bad on Red — tracks like “Treacherous” and “Stay Stay Stay” are totally solid album entries — but it’s fun to deal in superlatives, so let me turn this discussion over to you. Which of the songs on Red is your favorite? Vote in the poll below and then sound off in the comments!