By Will Bernish ‘13, Lighter Fare Section Editor
I’d never voluntarily listened to Taylor Swift before. I don’t believe I’d ever voluntarily listened to country music before – save for some Johnny Cash or Hank Williams. I mean, I think we’ve all heard “Love Story” or “You Belong With Me” a few thousand times just walking around in public. So when I prepared to listen to Red, Swift’s fourth studio album, with an open mind. Maybe, just maybe, if I sat down and actually listened to one of her albums, I might enjoy this music beloved by thousands of teenage girls. That’s the same way I learned to love Muse, Alt-J, Pavement, and so many other artists.
But when I listened to Red, a problem arose: I didn’t find new music. I had heard every single song before the first listen. Minus a few tracks, this album sounds exactly like “Love Story,” or “You Belong With Me,” or “Mine,” or whatever TSwift single that’s come out in the last 6 years. Her voice takes on two distinct tones: playful, romantic, like on “Stay Stay Stay” and whiny, indignant, like on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (“WANEGBT” as I call it), and that’s really all that accurately conveys the mood of the song. The instrumentals – most often guitar(s) – are either as somber as any Wilco classic or as saccharine as Korean pop. The lyrics cover many different topics, such as heartbreak, love, and then heartbreak again. Honestly, everything sounds very formulaic, as if Swift picks one of two tones, sounds, and subjects and throws them into a song.
My biggest gripe with the album isn’t its safe, uncreative songwriting—I look past the hackneyed 4-chord progressions. I can appreciate good pop music, and Taylor Swift is good pop music. She knows what her fans want, and knows how to churn out some huge singles– but that it’s over an hour long! Over an hour and a half with the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition, which you better believe I listened to for this review. This is a collection of songs that aren’t yet singles, and they all sound the same. Red is a boring album.
Is that disappointing? Yes. Is that surprising? Not really. It is a pop album, just behind a country façade. You don’t sit down and listen to a 2 Chainz or Justin Bieber album from beginning to end – you hear the current singles put on by money-grubbing DJs on the radio, in clubs, or – heaven forbid if it’s 2 Chainz – weddings. Taylor Swift knows how to churn out some huge singles, just not huge albums.
There were notable, even decent songs that woke me up when they came on. The chorus of “I Knew You Were Trouble” is very electronic, with a grimy synth and bass that reminds me of – dare I say? – dubstep. I’ll admit it, I actually enjoyed it. Good job, TSwift. “22,” a quirky ode to fun, is very reminiscent of CCDS’s favorite “Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus, with its sweeping synthesizers and anthem-style chorus. Swift’s duet with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol (remember them?) on “The Last Time” sounds sincere, and Lightbody’s voice serves as a welcome addition to the otherwise stale instrumentation. And “WANEGBT” is catchy. I don’t think there’s an argument against it.
Unfortunately, those songs comprise about 16 minutes of sonic redemption in an album over an hour-and-a-half long. Red suffers from being bland, in the context of the album itself, and of Swift’s entire discography. This album is painfully boring to listen to, as all the tracks start to meld together without any interesting songwriting. Certain new sounds – such as violins or steel guitar – pepper a few songs, but they all generally follow the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus pattern that has dominated the pop scene for decades. I know I’m going to hear “WANEGBT” whenever I go to a mall, or amusement park, or anywhere else with speakers, but I won’t be able to distinguish it from “Love Story,” or “Fearless,” etc. And while I totally would “hide away and find [my] peace of mind / With some indie record that’s much cooler than” Red, I can see the appeal for those teenage girls eager. I’m almost certainly not in Taylor Swift’s target demographic, so I guess I just don’t get it. I don’t hate Red, but I don’t think I’ll ever actively listen to Taylor Swift again. Of my own volition.
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