Swift’s new album maintains teen pop status quo

Is Taylor Swift really 22 already? It seems like just yesterday she was singing angsty, melodramatic teen pop hits about breaking up with her boyfriend (well, it kind of was just yesterday, but we’ll get to that later). Red is her fourth album, and over the course of her 6-year career, her fans of the 14-22 age group have grown up alongside her. That’s not to say that Swift’s songwriting has grown up as well. Sure, she’s tried – “The Lucky One” tackles the downside of fame, “Starlight” hits on the relationship between Bobby and Ethel Kennedy – but overall, the lyrical matter could have been lifted straight from a 15-year-old girl’s diary. Swift has essentially made a career out of alternating between songs that say “I love my boyfriend! My life is perfect!” and “We broke up! My life sucks!” with some variations. Why should she stop now, right? On “Treacherous,” she sings, “This slope is treacherous, this path is reckless, this slope is treacherous, and I, I, I like it;” on “Holy Ground,” she sings, “Tonight I’m gonna dance for all that we’ve been through, but I don’t wanna dance if I’m not dancing with you;” and on “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” it’s “We had a beautiful magic love there, what a sad beautiful tragic love affair.” Her vocal performance isn’t exactly spectacular either. Though she’s never been a strong singer, Swift is most tolerable when she lets her voice flow naturally alongside drifting acoustic guitars, as she does on Red ’s closer, “Begin Again.” What ruins her overall performance is that, on many songs, she tries too hard and winds up sounding silly, like on “22,” where she states that “Tonight would be a good night to dress up like hipsters and make fun of our exes” in a tilted teenage girl voice that comes across more as mocking and immature than it does catchy. Guest vocal spots are also lent in a pair of forgettable duets. Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody trades lines with Swift on “The Last Time,” which, were it not for the fact that it’s a duet with that guy from Snow Patrol, probably would have been the most forgettable track on the album. Similarly, “Everything Has Changed” features harmonies from British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, about whom all I know is that he covered “Wish You Were Here” at the Olympics and fangirls thought it was a new Ed Sheeran song. Blegh. All that stuff makes Red sound like a horrible album (unless you’re a Taylor Swift fan, in which case I’m sure it sounds excellent), but it has its good qualities, too. The album actually starts on a high note, metaphorically, with thumping drums and low-mixed, distorted guitars on “State of Grace,” although the title track follows with typical banjo plucks, trite similes, and muddled color metaphors (“Our love was red,” really?). She’s also branched out musically, ditching much of the country twang from her earlier work and replacing it with dance-beat driven tunes like “22,” “Starlight,” and the incessantly annoying hit single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Most importantly, though, Swift has at least a co-writing credit on every single song on Red . With charts ruled by pop hit-makers and torch-bearers who would rather flush thousands of dollars down the toilet than write a song, it’s refreshing to see an artist who actually puts pen to paper for her own music, even if she’s not very good at it. Co-writing credits also go to Sheeran, Lightbody, and pop guru Max Martin, who has written and produced countless horrendous hits for Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Pink, Usher, Adam Lambert, and Maroon 5. As a whole, Red is actually a pleasant surprise. Tracks like “State of Grace,” “Stay Stay Stay” (which has a hook begging for a spot in a phone commercial), and “Begin Again” are somewhat enjoyable, and although there isn’t a great deal of deep, mature songwriting, it’s a big step up for a girl who, just a few years ago, didn’t seem to know the ending of Romeo & Juliet . Overall rating: 5/10 Jack H. Evans is the entertainment editor for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter @BeardenBARK and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.