Taylor Swift's fourth album, Red, is among the best of the year. It is also the most inconsistent, but that was expected.
After releasing uber-pop hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” as the first single, Swift followed with “Begin Again” and “Red,” two mellow songs with classic Swift vocals and acoustic guitar that, compared to “Never Ever,” feel very familiar.
The rest of the album follows suit. There are fast songs that are poppy and predictable, and there are ballads that are, in all honesty, boring.
The album builds momentum quickly but does nothing with it. Soft and subdued tracks come immediately after pumped-up potential radio hits. The album never settles into a consistent or comfortable pace; it is up, down, up, down throughout.
The label's influence on this album is clear. Swift wrote every song on Speak Now herself, and while it certainly was no sales slouch, it didn't have the radio impact or accolades of Fearless. So co-writers were brought back in to help Swift craft Red and remind everyone that, yes, Taylor Swift can dominate the charts for weeks on end.
Songs like “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “22” and “Starlight,” are outstanding pop songs, but they are not exactly outstanding Swift songs. They feel and sound more like Swift's impression of other pop musicians. For example, “Trouble” has a dubstep-lite chorus, the opening of “Starlight” sounds nearly identical to the start of “Don't Trust Me” by 3OH!3 and the soaring party chorus of “22” will be played at every college bar across America.
That's not to say typical Swift-style songs aren't present on Red. “Stay Stay Stay” is the cutesy Swift everyone is used to, and though it has a sort of b-side vibe like “Ours” from Speak Now, it's a highlight of the album. “Holy Ground,” another standout, is thumping with energy while still sounding like it would fit perfectly on either of her previous two albums.
The album finishes strong, finding a bit of consistency in the last four tracks. “Everything Has Changed” is by far the better of the two collaborations, and while “Begin Again” is not an anthem-like finish as is “Long Live,” of Speak Now, it does well to close out the album.
Red seems to stand apart from Swift's other albums. For one, it doesn't feel as personal as Fearless or Speak Now - partly because of the co-written pop impressions, but also because Swift seems to be maturing. Sure, she still sings about things like dressing up like a hipster and making fun of her exes, but there are lines like “I'll do anything you say if you say it with your hands,” that at least point to a more grown-up Swift.
Though it's her fourth, Red appears to be a transition album for Swift. There are the type of songs we've come to expect from her, and there are songs unlike anything she's done before. Red is certainly still a Swift album, but it's maybe not the same old Swift.