Taylor Swift - Red
Big Machine Records, 2012
Big Machine Records, 2012
Obviously, listeners will hear what they want, but for me, Taylor’s manner of heart-on-the-sleeve conviction is one of her greatest strengths. In an age of overly-computerized poppers like Katy Perry and Ke$ha, Taylor’s honesty and candor imbues her music with a girl-next-door sensibility that is nothing short of refreshing. Furthermore, her country music roots allow her to implement traditional textures more often than most of her contemporaries, and even as she has moved away from those roots, Taylor’s reliance on organic instrumentation and classic country, pop and rock ‘n’ roll influences clearly leave her at the top of the pack…or at very least, next to her similarly-minded British counterpart, Adele.
The sobering “The Last Time” is another break-up ballad, this time playing out between intertwining male (Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody) and female voices. Throughout the song, it often feels like Swift is the supporting act, with everything from the melody to the wall of guitars to the vocal distribution tilting towards Lightbody’s wheelhouse. That disconnect hints at the ambiguous perspective of the piece, at the question of whether Taylor is actually the narrator or if she has adopted the situation of another. Likely, the song is the album’s most obvious rumination on the demise of the marriage between Swift’s mother and father, who separated this past spring. “Put my name at the top of your list,” Lightbody and Swift demand in turn, questioning just how much of themselves Swift’s parents poured into their daughter’s career and whether that skewed distribution of efforts and affection may have caused their relationship to implode. The feeling is similar on “I Almost Do” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” a pair of sparse acoustic ballads that assist the album’s central themes (those of regret and longing, heartbreak and hope) in moving to the forefront.
Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands,” a tear-down-the-walls anthem that ranks as one of the most powerful and resilient songs ever written (and not a bad standard to be compared to); Taylor’s version should be Red’s penultimate cut. That position goes instead to the neon-drenched “Starlight,” whose luminescent opening is almost tailor-made (pun intended) for some fantastical beauty product commercial. Remarkably, that indulgence works, not only because Taylor resides in a genre where commercial connections don’t ring utterly false, but also because she’s still pretty damn good at playing the princess.
And pop princess she is, especially on “22,” which is destined to be her biggest hit to date. Fans of Swift’s country roots will likely shake their head at the redneck-Ke$ha opening, but once the song opens up into a wall of synthesizers and settles into its indelible hook, it’s almost impossible not to shout along. The song’s youthful energy and “throw-away-the-obligations” mentality will make it an essential cut for many a college party in the coming months and that association is absolutely justified. Almost equally addictive is the Butch Walker-produced “Everything Has Changed,” a simple folk-pop song taken to the next level by a hip-hop-ready beat and titanic production values. Swift and British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeren serenade each other, their voices blending in a sweet valentine of a song that welcomingly indicates light at the end of the tunnel for what is, on the whole, a pervasively sad record.
|Pictures with Bruce AND Butch? Good deal.|