Your early twenties are tough. You’re asked to deal with taxing trials and tribulations such as struggling to match your bedazzled guitar to your sequined mini dress, or trying to compose dozens of love songs to the same four guitar chords. You’re forced to wrangle with real-world issues like selling bajillions of records and dating and breaking up with Jake Gyllenhaal (and never ever, ever getting back together). Sometimes, famous rappers call you out and humiliate you on live television.
So Taylor Swift may not be dealing with hampering toils of life — coming up with rent or job hunting in this economy like the rest of us — but where amore and being a mega-star is concerned, she has been through the ringer.
Red, her fourth LP, comes on the heels of Swift’s highly documented summer at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis, Mass. her sassy breakup single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and the hipster-tastic accompanying video. America’s favorite lanky blonde country bubblegum pop star is growing up. She’s now on boyfriend number 321, who is not only a Kennedy, but is also still in high school. How’s that for maturity?
To be fair, Red, in many ways, is a step forward. Swift is trying, perhaps for the first time, to sincerely and completely depart from her CMA, G-rated, big-haired pop-star-by-the-numbers persona. The physical changes are all there: the Instagram album cover, the matte red lipstick, the striped shirts with oxfords.
Musically, it’s there too: The songs on Red are a little longer, a little darker, a little richer lyrically. But the funny thing about departures is they require absolute and genuine commitment. A little red lipstick and a duet with Ed Sheeran isn’t quite enough to catapult Swift into the musical elite, but like with the rest of her music, it’s fun as hell listening to the attempt.
But still, it’s definitely saying something that Swift is one of the last major pop stars standing who has the guts to produce actual hit songs that are (for the most part) predicated on guitars, bass and drums — a setup which is quickly marching into archaic territory.
“State of Grace” capitalizes on some heavy arena-rock drums and reverb-laden riffs. “Sad Beautiful Tragic” is pure college-radio lite rock along the lines of ’90s staples the Cranberries and Mazzy Star. “I Knew You Were Trouble” is perhaps the cutest use of dubstep in modern pop (don’t question it).
For a star with some of the best pop instincts in the biz, unfortunately Swift’s duds stand out pretty starkly. “The Last Time” is over five minutes long, and limps along lethargically with a mopey orchestra telling you the appropriate sad emoji to resemble while listening. Presumably, the song is supposed to be a serious ballad-slash-duet with a serious male singer (Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol) who awkwardly dominates the song.
And as for the country in her music … there is no more country in her music. There is absolutely no reason, ever, for anyone to classify T-Swift in the country category anymore. She has officially crossed the thin glittered line into non-country territory. A lone banjo in the title track a country record does not make.
You have to hand it to her: At this point, Swift certainly isn’t lacking in the experience department. Girl has loved, girl has lost and girl has written a crapload of hit songs about it. But come on now — this is her fourth album spinning the same tired wheel. We get it. Break-ups are hard, relationships can be tangly (especially when it’s pouring rain) and it’s good to be pissed off sometimes.
These components work for Taylor Swift; they are her bread and butter, the very foundation upon which her fans worship her. And honestly, would you really change your formula if your album was projected to sell a million copies in its first week?