The risks taken by Taylor Swift are admirable considering the position she was in before the release of her fourth album Red. Her last record, Speak Now, was entirely written by her. That means no co-writers, a rarity for an album that did as well as that one. But it followed along the same lines as her first two, which she predominately wrote. Breakups and boy troubles; the usual drama. Taylor could have made Red using this method and it likely would have done just as well while keeping her status as one of country music biggest stars. But she chose not to.
Since the release of Speak Now, Taylor has done a lot of branching out. It’s almost fascinating how someone whose first impression appears to be so plain yet can be so in touch with so much. She calls Nicki Minaj amongst her best friends and was featured on a single by rapper B.o.B. She collaborated with folk duo the Civil Wars on a song made for the Hunger Games soundtrack that sounded unlike anything she had recorded up to that point. But most importantly, despite her many remixed-for-pop-radio hits, she’s still accepted by the country music industry. An industry that can be quite fickle toward singers that choose to go pop. Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Leann Rimes haven’t quite been the same since their crossover days.
Red is Taylor’s first record is show the type of variety and versatility that she’s opened up to and she does this at the risk of alienating her country fanbase. While it seems her acceptance there has remained despite her deviations away from country music, they’ve always been side projects while her albums have remained solidly within the realm of what is expected of a country music star. Red introduces Taylor to some non-country sounds and she wastes no time showing it. The first track State Of Grace is Taylor doing U2-style arena rock. Guitars and drums with full production that work best as an introduction because of its immediate buildup. A vast change from her usual downlow style of pop-country.
I’ve previously dubbed Taylor the Avril Lavigne of country music based on her vocal quality that is sometimes reminiscent of Avril. On 22 and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, the two singers are almost interchangeable as Taylor plays around with Avril’s signature style of brat-pop. Both songs were produced by Max Martin and Shellback whose names are pretty much synonymous with present-day pop music. The other song they co-wrote and produced is the most talked-about from the album, I Knew You Were Trouble, due to its presence of dubstep elements in the chorus. Despite that, Taylor still sings it with country sensibilities suggesting that while she wants to branch out, her roots are still showing.
The album’s two vocal collaborations are both from across the Atlantic and help to shape the sound of the record. English singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran offers a hand on Everything Has Changed and Gary Lightbody, lead singer for the Irish group Snow Patrol, and their longtime producer Jacknife Lee work with Taylor on The Last Time, making it more Snow Patrol than Taylor. It would have been awkward on the album but due to the varying degrees of sounds on here, it fits right in. Meanwhile, the hugely popular first single We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together is a great song because of the incorporation of youth-speak and relate-ability and how it’s delivered. As annoying and overused as “like” and “whatever” are, they fit. For the first time, Taylor is taking charge as she shows style and sass.
The album still contains plenty of what Taylor is known for though. The title track fuses her country sound with some elements of pop in the chorus and there are some of her usual relationship troubles on songs like I Almost Do, Sad Beautiful Tragic and Stay Stay Stay, which passes because it’s the most traditional sounding song on the album.
Red succeeds because of Taylor’s past. Her musical history adheres to a certain one track mind. While she’s respected as a songwriter for being honest and genuine, the subject of her songs rarely vary. With this record, she stays true to her usual topic but presents it differently and it makes all the difference in the world. The risks and ambitious choices on this album deserve a certain level of respect as Taylor attempts to fuse country and pop together once and for all – and to live to tell about it.
1. State Of Grace
4. I Knew You Were Trouble
5. All Too Well
7. I Almost Do
8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
9. Stay Stay Stay
10. The Last Time [featuring Gary Lightbody]
11. Holy Ground
12. Sad Beautiful Tragic
13. The Lucky One
14. Everything Has Changed [featuring Ed Sheeran]
16. Begin Again