Song of the Day #1,591: ‘Red’ – Taylor Swift

Since the release of Taylor Swift’s new album, Red, I’ve read several versions of the same joke: referencing the country-pop superstar’s penchant for writing scathing break-up songs about the many men who’ve wronged her, people have begun to suggest “Taylor, maybe it’s you…”

That idea ran through my mind more than once listening to Red, another collection that’s exhaustively focused on the failings of the men in Swift’s life. I have to say, it’s quite a feat to make me feel sympathy for John Mayer.

Swift is no doubt a talented songwriter and performer, but she needs new material. Her last record, the excellent Speak Now, represented a pinnacle of that adolescent, confessional style — on Red, though, she too often comes across like a twenty-something still hanging around her old high school.

Musically, Swift does branch out on this record. There are hardly any traces of the slick country sound she rode to superstardom, and it’s a successful evolution. She even teamed up with pop hitmaker Max Martin (who has written songs for Katy Perry and Britney Spears) to pen a few radio-friendly ditties.

One of those tracks, the dubstep-lite ‘I Knew You Were Trouble,’ is the best experiment on the record, a perfect marriage of Swift’s typical style and a dance floor anthem.

Red‘s 16 tracks clock in at over an hour, and that’s about six songs too long. Two duets with obscure male singers are missteps, first single ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ is embarrassingly out of place and the monotonous ballad ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ is the worst thing I’ve ever heard from Swift — five minutes that feel like fifty.

Elsewhere, she’s right on target. Lead-off track ‘State of Grace’ is a beautifully produced mid-tempo rocker that sounds like Joshua Tree-era U2. The title track (today’s SOTD) is a crackling country-pop ballad. ’22’ is tremendous, goofy fun — Swift channeling Katy Perry. And ‘Stay Stay Stay’ is simply adorable, boasting a bubble-gum singalong melody that hearkens back to ‘You Belong With Me.’

Red feels like a transitional album for Swift. She’s no longer a preternaturally talented high schooler, and she hasn’t yet proved that she can come across as an adult.

Contrast this album with Adele’s 21 — another record written entirely about a romantic breakup — and it’s hard not to notice the difference in stature. Adele was younger when she wrote 21 than Swift was when she wrote Red, yet the difference in maturity level is pronounced. I want to hear Taylor Swift’s grown-up album.

Of course she needs no advice from me. A million first-week sales argue that she knows exactly what she’s doing. But I think she has the talent to be something more than just the biggest star on the planet.

loving him iS like driving a new maserati down a dead end street
faster than the wind, passionate as sin, ending so suddenly
loving him is like trying to change your mind once you’re already flying through the free fall
like the colors in autumn so bright just before they lose it all

losing him was blue, like i’d never known
missing him was dark gray, all alone
forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’ve never met
but loving him was red
loving him was red

touching him was like realizing All you ever wanted was right there in front of you
memorizing him was as easy as knowing all the words to your old favorite song
fighting with him was like trying to solve a crossword and realizing there’s no right answer
regretting him was like wishing you never found out that love could be that stronG

losing him was blue, like i’d never known
missing him was dark gray, all alone
forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you never met
but loving him was red, oh red, burning red

remembering him comes in flashbacks and echoes
tell myself it’s time now gotta let go
but moving on from him is impossible when i still see it all in my head…in burning red
burning, it was red

losing him was blue, like i’d never known
missing him was dark gray, all alone
forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’ve never met
cause loving him was red, yeah yeah red, burning red

and that’s why he’s spinning around in my head
comes back to me in burning red
loving him is like driving a new maserati down a dead end street

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,591: ‘Red’ – Taylor Swift

  1. Dana says:

    I largely agree with your review, though I have no particular fondness for the title track you are featuring. As I had indicated in an earlier post, some or maybe all of the 5 Target bonus tracks should have made their way onto the album, substituting for the weaker songs on the record. Speak Now is clearly the better record, but I agree that Red is an evolution, at least musically, for Swift with decidedly mixed results. Here is the most catchy of the 5 bonus tracks, “Girl at Home:”

  2. Shawn says:

    The reason you might not hear musical maturity coming from Swift is because she only seems to have a preternatural talent for business, understanding the draw of soap opera and beauty. She seems to have no affinity for the roots of country music and therefore no one should wait in earnest for Ms. Swift to produce “something more.” The winners in her deal are, of course, Swift, with a nice bank account, the record company, with a nice bank account, Wal-Mart, with a nice bank account, and all the ex-boyfriends, with a great and rare account to share with their grandchildren or in a memoir.

  3. Amy says:

    Clay, you assume that all people mature in the same way or at the same rate. I’d guess that Adele at 21 and Taylor at 21 are (or were) two very different young women. Swift is unapologetically innocent and wanting to hold on to that childhood feeling as long as possible. In fact, I find some of her most powerful lyrics and songs exploring that very dichotomy – the fact that she is in a business and living in an age where a young woman is supposed to become an adult much sooner than perhaps she’s ready, and Taylor fights that, wanting to hold on to each age, “15,” “22,” and enjoy what that age means to her, not how it is defined by others.

    That said, I, too, largely agree with your review, though you didn’t mention the two songs I find standouts on the new album: “All Too Well” and “Begin Again.” A colleague who is a published poet and fan of a wide variety of independent artists of whom I’m likely never heard, is an unabashed Taylor Swift fan and singled out “All Too Well” as his early favorite. What I love about that song is it DOES show an emotional step in a mature direction, as the lost love is not reviled in the least –

    Rather, this is a powerful song about what could have been and how hard it is to reconcile moving on with the belief that “if only…” I find it every bit as effective as anything written by Adele (who, you know, I love). And “Begin Again” is the perfect way to end the album…

    So, yes, get rid of the ballad with the Snow Patrol guy, for sure. Replace (or delete) a couple of the less successful songs from the second half of the album, but chalk this album up as yet another great addition to this young woman’s increasingly impressive catalogue.

  4. Clay says:

    I agree, ‘All Too Well’ is one of the standout tracks.

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