Thursday, November 1, 2012

Taylor Swift's Red: Schizophrenic, but some Gems

Taylor Swift has clearly has captured the cultural consciousness, transcending her pop-country origins to become perhaps the leading American pop-star. Red sold 1.2 million copies its first week, the most in a decade we are told. She has sold the most albums in the past 5 years, and her fourth appears to continue this performance even admits industry sales stagnation.

But what of her song-writing development? Has the precocious author of "Fifteen" and other pop story ballads -- and subject of many a heated internet critics' debates -- progressed or regressed?

I have only listened to Red a few times but can say it is uneven, almost schizophrenic, but has plenty of great moments. The standout ballad tour de force -- "All too Well"-- is perhaps her best song yet, swelling as it does to a point of catharsis. Strangely, it is surrounded by two Max Martin pop numbers that sound like Avril Lavigne outtakes, "I Knew You Were Trouble"and "22", pretty fun and better than the somewhat irritating lead single "We are Never Getting Back Together" which is also of the same vein and originator.

There are also other rock-ish numbers that somewhat fall flat for me, although perhaps more will gain traction on repeat listen. The slower ballads, namely the aforementioned "All too Well" and "Begin Again" (the last song, what else!) push her traditional strengths further than before and are quite excellent. More controversially, I enjoy the other slower numbers such as "Sad Beautiful Tragic" and even "Everything has Changed", a collaboration dismissed widely as boring adult contemporary fare, that I think sounds great, despite its more general, even a bit boring lyric sheets by her standards.

What do we want from Taylor Swift, now that she is an adult?

She couldn't remake Fearless her whole career -- you're only 18 once. But much of her youthful appeal remains in her most recent output tinged now, however, by touches of romantic melancholy. The pop numbers will alienate some fans and win some new ones. But what remains is that Taylor Swift is, despite the expected growing pains of trying new styles, a master pop-country ballader. And one with the ear of America's youth, apparently.  

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