The color red is striking and vibrant, passionate and lush. It doesn’t give into restraints. It’s a stirring color, emotional in its essence, and this means it can sometimes be sullen. However, the color red is no doubt alive. On her fourth studio album, Red, superstar Taylor Swift revels in emotional color as she delivers 16 songs bursting with life and a young modern point of view.
In many ways Taylor, who released her self-titled debut six years ago this week, has grown up before our eyes. It shouldn’t be shocking that the one we hear now wields an older and more experienced outlook than the 16-year-old that broke in 2006 with the song about young love, “Tim McGraw.” Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22, she sings here on the electro-pop tune, “22,” celebrating her youth, but also subtly defending her right to act her age. And this ever-maturing attitude runs through the bulk of Red.
Many of the songs on Red, which is available now, carry the same themes from Taylor’s previous albums – dating, boys, relationships, fights and new beginnings. However, on songs like the building “Treacherous,” where danger is a turn on, and the simultaneously sad and angry break-up song, “All Too Well,” Taylor displays a wiser stance, even cleverly pointing out a boy as, so casually cruel in the name of being honest, on the latter. On “I Knew You Were Trouble.,” written with P!nk collaborators Max Martin and Swedish DJ, Shellback, Taylor blames herself for getting in too deep before an electronic dubstep-influenced chorus rings out.
Taylor wrote or co-wrote every song on Red, including three with Max Martin and Shellback, exploring a more overtly pop sound here than she has in the past. The aforementioned, “22,” and first single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” both feature electronic arrangements. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” slyly moves between programmed acoustic guitars and a steady drum pulse into a huge, anthemic chorus with the fervent energy of a college pep rally. It’s a cathartic release, and when the low key, jangling, “Stay Stay Stay,” follows immediately after carrying the first line, I’m pretty sure we almost broke up last night, it comes off as sweet comic relief.
Conflicting emotions rise up throughout the project. For example, the music is often very pop, with killer hooks and quick melodies (“Starlight”), but the themes have an element of small town girl in a big city world (album opener “State of Grace”). On “I Almost Do,” which hints at Taylor’s early rolling acoustic sound, she helplessly daydreams about a far-off boy that moved from her country town to the city. The urgent “Holy Ground,” which captures moments of reminiscing over a lost love, finds Taylor in the city conflicted in knowing that it was a good love.
A pair of European guests join Taylor on the album; British artist Ed Sheeran collaborates on the fluttering, “Everything Has Changed,” while Gary Lightbody of Scottish rock band Snow Patrol duets on “The Last Time.” Gary and Taylor display a palpable chemistry in their brilliant harmonies similar to the moody dynamics of The Civil Wars.
Taylor also ventures into some new territory. The mysterious, ¾-time, “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” builds from haunting piano to leave listeners clinging on every word as they work through the song’s dark storylines. And on “The Lucky One,” Taylor takes aim at celebrity with sarcasm; everybody loves pretty, everybody loves cool.
Red is an evocative album full of vibrant moments. The electric energy of the pounding title-track, with color-driven lyrics bringing out vivid imagery, just reminds listeners that Taylor is one of the most talented young songwriters in any genre. Red comes wrapped up in a flurry of emotion, but just like the color, it’s bursting with life.
Key Tracks – “All Too Well,” “I Almost Do,” “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” “The Last Time”