Taylor Swift continues her ascendance on the pop music ladder with “Red,” her fourth album. She displays much of the singing and songwriting that has made her America’s music sweetheart over the past few years, while taking some chances and making forays into some new musical territory. “State of Grace” starts things off with an upbeat pop style, bordering on arena rock. The lyrics delve into the rush of falling in love. “We are alone just you and me/ up in your room and our slates are clean/ just twin fire signs, four blue eyes/ so you were never a saint/ and I’ve loved in shades of wrong.” The title track is a pop tune with country overtones. It delves into the passion associated with the color red. “Loving him is like driving a Maserati down a dead-end street.” “Treacherous” is a solid tune, with Swift playing acoustic guitar There are several songs co-written by Swift, Max Martin and Shellback. One seems really out of place. “I Knew You Were Trouble” sounds like something Kelly Clarkson would sing. Another, “22,” jumps right out of the speakers and has lyrics about hanging out with the girls in the clubs. The theme is fitting for someone Swift’s age, but overall the song would seem more fitting on a Katy Perry album. Who Swift collaborates with has an impact. Her strongest songs tend to be those she writes by herself. A good example is “I Almost Do.” Her sweet voices pairs well with acoustic guitar on softer, gentler tunes.
Swift is clearly more pop than country, but she can incorporate elements of the latter with the former in a manner that seems genuine, rather than something phony from a Nashville songwriting factory. “Stay, Stay, Stay,” another tune she wrote by herself, is a good example. The mandolin adds a nice down-home touch. Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol sings a duet with Swift on “The Last Time.” The strings create a very dramatic sound. “Sad Beautiful Tragic” displays a definite Mazzy Star influence. Swift and Ed Sheeran sing and co-wrote “Everything Has Changed.” Apparently she wants some male perspective in her relationship songs. “Starlight” is an upbeat pop-rocker about a girl sneaking out. “Picked me up late one night/ out the window we were seventeen/ and crazy, running wild, wild.” The bonus edition of the CD, which is well worth a few extra dollars, has three additional songs as well as different versions of the first three songs. As on her previous albums, the liner notes and photos do much for the overall artistic offering. Occasionally “Red” sounds a bit awkward, mainly from the contributions of some of the collaborators. But that shows Swift is not afraid to be adventurous. Overall this is a strong effort from one of the more talented musical artists of her generation.
Reviewed by John Larson