Taylor Swift’s Oct. 22 release, Red, comes almost exactly two years after her last stint in the studio with 2010’s Speak Now.
Her new set of tracks is lyric-focused country-pop, with a definitive new electric attitude around the edges, but many of the same clean acoustic sounds fans have come to expect.
The album is a good example of exactly where Taylor Swift lies on the modern musical spectrum: as an artist with the uncanny ability to write songs that sound right at home among other top pop tunes, and others that feel made for country radio.
On many of the tracks, it’s that acoustic tone that shines through the most. “Everything has Changed” is a tight, largely acoustic piece that begins from a confident guitar beat and moves into a tight texture of brushed drums, thumping bass and harmony vocals.
“The Last Time” takes more melancholy acoustic moods and paints with a broader palette. Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol joins Swift for a track that features piano, guitar, bass, synth, harp, drums and sixteen string players. The result is a not just a well-done duet, but a soaring emotional build to the finish.
The album also presents a few new ideas to listeners; “I Knew You Were Trouble.” opens with a pop-punk flavored electric beat before opening into one of the biggest surprises on the album. At the top of the chorus, the bass drops and the drums open into a heavy electric beat that feels a far cry from the Nashville-flavored ethos Swift is famous for. Taylor Swift, country and dubstep have never been closer to the same independent clause.
Red experiments with synth and electric tones through other tracks on the album, like on “22,” which lands somewhere between both Hot Chelle Rae and One Direction’s reliance on a big, heavy, synth-laden chorus. The lead single from the album, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” has the same feel with a big, medium tempo chorus groove.
The album takes the time to slow down on tracks like “All Too Well” and “Begin Again,” both good examples of Swift’s ability to write slower mood pieces. The album opener, “State of Grace,” is snappy, soaring and catchy with an upbeat, striding guitar beat.
As a whole, Red sounds good and feels good, with a reasonable amount of versatility between both edgier/electric and acoustic/country textures and moods. However, it doesn’t seem very groundbreaking. The feel on the title track is reminiscent to old hits like “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.” On “The Last Time,” it’s frustrating to hear Swift on a track with nearly 20 other musicians and no capitalization beyond a relatively simple ballad tune.
Swift gets points for some details around the edges, hiding within textures on the album is some brilliant acoustic guitar work, which is sensitive and thoughtful. What’s more, the synthesized and electric parts of the album have strong moments, and will leave fans with a new impression of exactly what Swift is all about.