Taylor Swift wasn’t born a Southern belle, it’s simply the persona she adopted having moved to Nashville, Tennessee at 14-years-old. An eternally romantic teen in love with the idea of being in love, it was all too picturesque for the American public to resist; so the country music and teen-pop markets both swooned in adoration. Sure, she sang about getting dumped and "stupid old pick-up trucks" she was never allowed to drive but who doesn’t hit a few bumps on the road to finding their perfect man?
Well on Red, Taylor’s gone through another split and this time, it's personal. “Urgggh, so he calls me up and he's like, ‘I still love you,’" she frustratedly recalls on the self-explanatory ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’. “And I'm like... ‘I just... I mean this is exhausting, you know, like, we are never getting back together. Like, ever.’" This is as close as the ‘Love Story’ singer will ever get to screaming ‘go fuck yourself’ on an album. It’s also just a fragment of one of 2012’s most inspired singles and a complete vindication of Swift’s decision to stray from the self-penned ethos of her last record Speak Now.
Although Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody are Red’s best-known contributors, Max Martin is the name that really signals its intentions. As the man behind ‘...Baby One More Time’, ‘Since U Been Gone’ and ‘I Kissed A Girl’, Martin is the kind of producer who can mould a decent singer into a popstar. Nowhere is this more clear than on ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ which, aside from being the fastest selling song in digital history, creates a new forthright image for Swift to inhabit compared to the soppy submissive of old. This means double tracking her vocals to beef up a voice built for dainty acoustics and throbbing bass-filled choruses to signify a girl who’s old enough to join the EDM party, plus a few parting shots at “hipsters” and their superior indie credentials.
At its best, the whole affair brings to mind a more four-to-the-floor version of Adele’s 21. Given the album also contains ‘Treacherous’, a collaboration with Dan Wilson who co-wrote ‘Someone Like You’, this is no coincidence at all. Where Tottenham’s finest creates an epic drama out of smoking a fag in stormy weather (‘Set Fire To The Rain’) or having a fight in a sushi bar (‘Turning Tables’), Swift is relentlessly literal in her lyrics. Most of the time it’s endearing, even if the likes of ‘Stay Stay Stay’ and ‘Begin Again’ threaten to outnumber the headline attraction of its leading lady gone embittered... and sort of ravey. On a 16 song collection, the habit eventually wears thin with ‘Sad Beautiful Tragic’ paying particularly flagrant disregard for the law of ‘show, don’t tell’.
For all its manufactured essence, Red remains firmly grounded at the crossroads between innocence and experience. Taylor Swift has stayed true to her southern roots but what kind of belle is she? Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire who clings onto civility while falling afoul of the modern world? Or Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind, who emerges from loss with a hardened heart? Whatever the answer, it’s going to make for a fascinating follow-up album.
7Robert Leedham's Score