Big Machine Records
Well, there’s certainly no confusing Red for a country album. Taylor Swift is all grown-up now, so it’s time to experiment. Oh, the publicity materials can brag endlessly about experimentation of sounds, collaborations with Ed Sheeran (this guy is everywhere) and that Mark Foster fellow. Of course, Max Martin is roped in too, to make sure that there are some radio-friendly jingles too.
The thing is, Taylor Swift has that rare special ability to blanket every song, fast or slow, with a soot of breathy, bleating malaise that seems to suggest that she’s barely awake while she’s singing. While the songs here do carry the lyrical contribution from other people, nine of them still boast Ms Swift’s insipid diary doodling. She’s still selling that tired and artificial image of her as this clean-cut wholesome gal who always catches the eye of the hottest jock in school, which I guess is part of her appeal. Here she also sings about the perils of fame and what not, as growing up for her seems to entail becoming as big a cliché as can be.
Red is full of mostly dreary ballads and lethargic mid-tempo tunes. Indeed, her collaboration with Ed Sheeran in Everything Has Changed brings out the worst from each other – it’s like watching two barely awake people desperately trying to inject epinephrine under each other’s eyelid. Her collaboration with Gary Lightbody, The Last Time, is better, mostly because Mr Lightbody’s more capable baritone covers Ms Swift’s anemic vocals.
The most memorable songs are those where the beats refuse to let Ms Swift’s dreary bleating drag them down. Hence, the ridiculously catchy We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together reaches out and slaps me awake as I’m about to dodder off from the constant barrage of tedious “adult ballads”. This one must have somehow escaped Avril Lavigne’s closet, because it even sees Ms Swift sounding exactly like that aging punk-rocker wannabe. Starlight is some fun tune to mindlessly wave one’s hands like crazy into the night without a care. The Lucky One is almost a good song, but it also sees Ms Swift attempts to adopt some cynical and jaded persona. It’s like listening to Minnie Mouse singing I’ve Never Been to Me – what the hell does a clean-cut 22-year old young lady know about these things?
Still, Ms Swift tries, and she attempts to diversify her sound. Even if the end result is a dreary sleeping pill, with the occasional unintentional comedy when Ms Swift attempts to sound like a cynical grown-up wise to the ways of the world, I guess I couldn’t fault her for wanting to grow up and spread her wings. Call me again in a few years – maybe she’ll actually become interesting then.