Taylor Swift “Red” (Big Machine)
Taylor Swift's musical realignment began with 2008's “Fearless” and nears totality with “Red,” an album in which Swift surrounds herself with the pristine machinery of modern pop and makes only a few glancing gestures to country music. But as she becomes more pop, it is clear that pop becomes her: Swift's attachment to country music always felt like a shotgun marriage, and the neon electro-pop and genre-neutral acoustic songs that dominate “Red” suggest that her relationship with country is nearly as past-tense as her relationship with ... well, pick a name. Swift's execution of chart pop on “Red” shows it was only a matter of time.
“Red” begins with “State of Grace,” a big swath of U2-inspired rock expansive enough to reach the cheap seats and an unusual note of romantic hope in which she pronounces a relationship “the golden age of something good.” It leads into the similarly epic “Red,” a litany of similes punctuated by staccato echoes of its title. Those songs were cowritten by Swift with two country music professionals, Nathan Chapman and Dann Huff, respectively, but the nods to country only come in the occasional banjo and a general emphasis on organic sound. But with “I Knew You Were Trouble”, “22” and the first single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Swift fully invests in super-elastic bubble gum plastic produced and cowritten by Max Martin and Shellback, and in all three cases, her double-down on pop pays off handsomely. They work because Swift throws great asides and a few self-deprecating remarks (“Who is Taylor Swift anyway?”), and when she slams a recent ex in “Never Ever,” the pop hooks land as solidly as her kiss-off lyrics.