Taylor Swift's Red: A First Listen

Categories: First Listens

Taylor-swift-red.jpeg
Imma let you finish Kanye, but Taylor Swift made one of the best albums of 2010. While indeed beautiful, dark, and twisted, Kanye's forbidding masterpiece didn't get stick it to abusers like "Mean" or "Dear John," get laid like "Sparks Fly," bare its teeth like "Better Than Revenge," marry in style like "Mine," or dance euphorically like "Story of Us." Or stick it to Kanye himself like "Innocent." Speak Now is, suffice it to say, untoppable. But how will Red, the follow-up, be? Shall we see?

"State of Grace"
Taylor barely appears for the first minute of this stomping arena-rock march, but when she does, we're treated to a thicket of Edge-style guitar chimes, hmmm. Luckily her vocals -- echoed, Auto-Tuned, layered to the heavens -- are among the most tuneful, drawn-out phrasing she's ever attempted. Even better: When it finally hits the chorus halfway through she rips off Against Me!'s "Thrash Unreal," much to my delight. Almost makes up for the Edge guitars and airport-runway sound quality. Lyrics strangely ancillary.

"Red"
With success comes pricier metaphors: love that used to be like the slam of screen doors is now like driving a new Maserati. Banjo plucks and a budding disco beat pulsate lightly before kicking the sides out for a comeback-album-worthy takeoff of a chorus. What the fuck are these metaphors though: "like trying to solve a crossword and realizing there's no right answer," "as easy as knowing all the words to your old favorite song"? Luckily the hooks are addictive, even the obligatory post-The-Dream stutter after the chorus that everyone's doing now. Plus the bridge is punk as hell.

"Treacherous"
The pious U2 guitar glaze is finally absent for a few bars here -- the prettiest on the album thus far -- but it returns with a vengeance that unfortunately turns the whole song into "With or Without You." The chorus of multitracked clones cocooning Taylor-Prime's mantras ("I'll follow you home," "this slope is treacherous") -- is pretty and confident and expansive, but She Who Makes Surprised Faces has developed an alarming tolerance for platitudes of the vaguest order. If only she took a page from Dylan and cobbled together a rhyme for "lecherous."

"I Knew You Were Trouble"
The profession requires I cannot tell a lie -- at least not to you guys, maybe to my parents -- that I've already heard this one, a shame because I'd love to euphorically explode with a hearty "OH SHIT A MOTHERFUCKING BASS DROP." Sure, she's just about the last pop star to flirt with dubstep, but it's also the first moment of real heedless wit on the album, and that Swift doesn't abandon the joke but gamely burrows further into the glitching, glistening pomposity is a reminder that the girl's a real pop star, a born technician.

"All Too Well"
Oh, so this is where they put all the lyrics. Over five and a half swift minutes (I did not actually mean to do that) she jerks us around by our tears, painting flashes of a crumpled relationship: Boy's mom telling her cute stories of Boy's youth, Taylor and Boy exchanging gifts destined post-breakup to become miserable totems, the two of them "dancing round the room in the refrigerator light" -- which is a really weird and wasteful thing to do -- returning grimly to the present in between. At press time we salivate to determine who the song is about, not that it made even a 16th of a hell of a difference on the last album's "John Mayer" and "Kanye" songs, much less the Twilight blip who, ew, shared her name.

"22"
Honest: thought she was gonna say "It feels like a perfect night to dress up like Hitler," but no such insane luck. Being at least as much of a Ke$ha ripoff as "Better than Revenge" aped Paramore, it's "hipsters." Bring on the triumphalist hedonism! But Paramore's envious moralizing suited her better; this song has strenuous charm (dayglo Max Martin synth stabs, giggled asides, party party party), but the self-satisfaction that haunts all Taylor Swift songs somehow becomes sizably prissy* when she starts bragging about how much fun she's having. And she sounds like she's having about as much fun as Avril picking out formalwear with Chad Kroeger.
*Ke$ha is many things, "prissy" is not one

"I Almost Do"
If this album's vulnerable, it certainly hasn't shown it til now -- an ironically Kanye-like development. See, what looks like Swift being cold and distant is really her just stopping herself over and over again from running to you. Happens to everyone, yeah, but this is some of her most precise work: "I bet this time of night you're still up," "I just want you to know it takes everything in me not to call you." Otherwise it's arranged and strummed like a Fearless outtake. But then so was half of Fearless.

"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
Her first true No. 1 hit sounds better in album context, maybe because the surrounding tracks aren't as forthright or because there should be more dubstep if she's leaving country behind. And she's developing a complex about indie-rockers the way Dylan started freaking out about astronauts. The whole thing's a little too boxy and perfect to be a truly great pop song, and the firmness of the sentiment only reminds me of this.

"Stay Stay Stay"
What is this Christmas shit?

"The Last Time" (feat. Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol)
Eating a bag of dicks is a tradition that goes way back, and culminated most prominently in the lexicon thanks to the imaginative riffings of Louis C.K.. But this doesn't eat a bag of dicks. It chokes down a sackcloth of foreskins.

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3 comments
samcmac
samcmac

@kissoutthejams good as always but you're out of your f-ing mind if you'd honestly take automaton city over unobtrusive wallpaper sheeran.

samcmac
samcmac

@kissoutthejams i've been mostly won over by that one too but only because of a zen-like selective listening ability it's forced me to learn

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