Taylor Swift

Big Machine, 2012

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


As the Vault’s resident twenty-something, I feel like it’s up to me to take on what’s going to be one of the year’s best-selling albums (it’s already the fastest-selling album in over a decade). Plus, despite my alt-rock leanings, I really did love Taylor Swift’s last album, the record-breaking Speak Now. It was a seamless blend of pop and country, a more lighthearted but no less honest younger cousin to Adele’s 22. Swift at 19 seemed surprisingly wise beyond her years on songs like “Back To December” and “Dear John,” which even led Rolling Stone to compare her to a young Joni Mitchell. High praise, to be sure. But to her credit, Swift has an ability to put into words some of our most raw feelings, touching the frayed nerve of love. And Swift herself just seems like a breath of fresh air in a landscape of pop that’s been smoothed and electronicized beyond recognition, artists shape-shifting every time they release a new single.

But that sense of being utterly genuine tends to be both her greatest blessing and her greatest curse on her latest album, Red. Because Swift is twenty-two. And because most twenty-two-year-olds haven’t really earned the widest of emotional ranges, every single cut on this disc is about romance. Whether it’s kissing off an ex or sparking a new love affair, there is a sense of youthfulness to these songs that is, unfortunately, sometimes underlaid with flightiness. Maybe it’s the fact that T-Swift is majorly overexposed in the media, bouncing from one famous boyfriend to the next; it turns these songs into a puzzle to figure out which movie star or Kennedy flame she’s coyly alluding to, to the detriment of the music itself at times.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But now that I’ve said that, I have to admit that I keep spinning Red. I know I’m precisely its target audience, but as an unbiased reviewer, this album – at least the first half – is incredibly listenable and relatable for anyone who’s ever been in love, which crosses all ages and experiences.

Opener “State Of Grace” showcases Swift moving away from her now well-done girl-with-a-guitar sound and embracing bigger, soaring production that cuts like “Sparks Fly” promised on her last album. It’s slow-building and slow-burning, harnessing tons of reverb and a lifting, yearning chorus to describe the total free-fall that is the beginning of love. Moments like these prove what Swift is capable of as an artist; it’s when she’s not reminding us how old she (see the cheesy pop of “22” and inescapable single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) that she manages to release music that’s timeless and resonant.

Swift is growing musically with each album, whether she’s melding her country roots with a richer rock sound on the driving jangle of the title track or adding in a dubstep flavor on “I Knew You Were Trouble.” It’s not much of a surprise that the most radio-ready cuts here have Max Martin helming production; Martin holds the reins behind basically every earworm of a hit that’s on the radio today, from Britney Spears to Pink to Kelly Clarkson. While he made “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” into a playful, twee pop anthem before the album was even released (and you will never ever be getting that song unstuck from your brain), he’s at his most effective with “Trouble.” It starts out deceptively poppy before all the layers of distortion and heavy piano chords kick in, making this an edgy departure from her earlier material.

We’ve all come to expect earnest, acoustic guitar ballads from Swift, and there’s a dearth of these on this album, some better than others. She’s at her best on the understated “All Too Well,” which allows her ability to place the listener squarely in the moment to shine: “’Cause here we are again on that little town street / you almost ran the red because you were looking over at me,” and when the strings start to rise, you can feel the pulse of the song as if it was your own. But by overloading this album at sixteen songs and over an hour runtime, it makes it so that the standout moments get buried by the lesser tracks (the downbeat “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” a bland duet with Ed Sheeran on “Everything Has Changed,” and “The Lucky One,” which recalls Britney Spears’ “Lucky” in an unsettling way). Only the breathless, optimistic closer “Begin Again” earns its spot as material from the second half that holds a candle to the first half.

So, while Red may be a frustrating listen, it’s probably only growing pains for Swift, who is not only talented as an artist in her own right but at recruiting a team of producers that elevates her sound to the next level. Here’s hoping her next album is more cohesive but no less honest.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2012 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Big Machine, and is used for informational purposes only.