Country pop princess, Taylor Swift, released her greatly anticipated new album, ‘Red’, today (Oct 22nd). This, her fourth release, is the follow-up to 2010’s massively successful, ‘Speak Now’.
It will be said, I’m sure, that this is a more mature album than her previous two, and that she has crossed over from her country roots into a more mainstream sound. This may be true in part, but let’s not forget that Miss Swift was never exactly Johnny Cash in the first place. Her bubble gum brand of country has always been shot through with pop sensibilities and in that respect ‘Red’ is no different.
Having said that, the opening track, ‘State of Grace’, sounds like she’s singing over a U2 backing track. Complete with chiming guitars and rolling tom-tom drums, Swift delivers a sparse, lone vocal one does not normally associate with young female pop, let alone today’s country music. Much of the album is familiar Taylor, with big choruses, shiny production and sweet, catchy melodies.
However, where there is glossy pop (‘22’, ‘Starlight’) there is also cool melancholy on ‘The Last Time’, a duet with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, coffee shop singer-songwriter introspection on ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ and a whiff of r & b on ‘I Knew you were Trouble’. It does seem that team Taylor is keen to reach out to a broader audience, and in doing so ‘Red’ has more of a genre and age defying quality to it than her earlier recordings.
The lead off single, ‘We are never ever getting back together’, released in August, was Swift’s first Billboard number 1. As with much of her material, Swift is singing about her troubles with boys again, this time with refreshing levity and a sing-along, arm-waving chorus that is undeniably infectious.
There are still moments on ‘Red’, however, where Swift rediscovers her country spirit. The closing track, ‘Begin Again’, a pretty song about finding hope at the end of damaging relationships, incorporates mandolin and pedal steel, and offers a pleasing change of tone and is arguably one of the best songs on the record. Boys and relationships are, of course, her main topic of conversation on ‘Red’ as on her previous releases.
Whilst there maybe nothing new about the subject matter, it obviously resonates with Swift and she is bold on its importance: “All the different emotions that are written about on this album are all pretty much about the kind of tumultuous, crazy, insane, intense, semi-toxic relationships that I’ve experienced in the last two years….in my mind, all those emotions are red. You know, there’s nothing in between. There’s nothing beige about any of those feelings.” On ‘The Lucky One’, Swift sings of the acclaimed singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.
Whilst it’s certainly fair to say that ‘Red’ is not bland enough to be considered beige, Taylor Swift still has some growing up to do before she can match anything approaching the color and depth of an artist of Mitchell’s stature.