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.
Swift is much less successful in her duets on “Red,” mainly because she sounds like a guest on her own record. “The Last Time,” her collaboration with Gary Lightbody, plays like a Snow Patrol song with an emailed background vocal from Swift, a haphazard edit instead of an actual, give-and-take duet. Swift fares better on the Butch Walker-produced duet with Ed Sheeran, “Everything Has Changed,” but the song pales compared to the more forceful pop tracks on the album. She either does not pair well with other singers or has yet to find a good partner, and these songs suggest a pointless Brit-pop treaty when the balance of “Red” shows that Swift is busy executing a unilateral pop takeover.
— George Lang