Taylor Swift’s “Red” album could be called “More Songs About Breaking Up with Boys…Some Who Are Famous.” There are 16 songs. On three of them already released as singles, Max Martin and his Swedish sound machine provide the music and production. Those songs sound like warmed over Kelly Clarkson and not as good. You can’t beat what Max Martin did for Kelly, so why try? “Since U Been Gone” is the template classic of the genre. There’s no topping it.
What did I like? A lot, actually. “Red,” “Begin Again,” and “All Too Well”–the latter written with frequent collaborator Liz Rose– jump out as really well composed songs, sincere as they can be, and heartfelt. Their intimacy works. The duet with Ed Sheeran, “Everything has Changed,” also hits its target. (Butch Walker did a nice production on that one.)
It’s interesting that the first half of the album is all the so-called commercial stuff, the second half are Swift’s solo compositions– just in case anyone listens to an album in order anymore. It’s like Side 1/Side 2. By Side 2, the record company figures you’re not paying attention anyway. I thought it pretty funny that the songs I liked the most were actually just Swift’s own works, with none of the polyurethane.
It’s not only the Swedish stuff that sounds like it came out of a can. There’s kind of a weird U2 like production on “State of Grace,” the opening track, that sounds like it came from The Edge’s notebook. It’s almost as if Swift’s “team” thought, Let’s try everything and see what works. I’m surprised there isn’t a rap by Nicki Minaj on one of these tracks.
In the end, what jumps out is that there’s a formula at work here: take teams of writers who’ve had hits with Alicia Keys, Adele, etc and apply a similar magic dust to Taylor Swift. Pop radio is a loud, homogenous mess of stuff that all sounds alike. And this is why.
Yes, Taylor Swift is very talented. But she’s also 22, and fighting a lot of outside influences. There’s time. She has a lot of potential if she wants to be more than a product or a series of merchandising opportunities. I’d like be there when she has her rebellion moment. Now, that should be interesting.