Review Summary: A fitting progression.
Taylor Swift's work has always seemed to represent the inner timelessness of love most people would be happy to express. A lot of it's in part because how almost every song of hers has managed to truly sound like a page in a personal diary, with powerful narratives of love and heartbreak strewn about in her songwriting. While she started with pop-tinged country music laced with these lyrical themes, it seems to have reciprocated to the pop-esque end of things. Speak Now already hinted at a more streamlined country-pop style, but Red shows this in a more fully realized form.
However, what makes this experience an arguably better one is the pure genuine nature of it, even in the songs where it seems less obvious. Sure, there's the hinted-at dubstep and bubblegum pop experimentation in certain songs, like "I Knew You Were Trouble" and "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" respectively, but then there are songs like "Sad Beautiful Tragic" and the fantastic "Begin Again" to balance things out. Even then, "I Knew You Were Trouble" ironically happens to be one of the real highlights, replete with soaring vocals from Swift and a rousing chorus that, despite the dubstep sound of it, is extremely memorable and lively.
However, what specifically makes the whole record work" I'd say it's because of how diverse it is and, more importantly, how it isn't disjointed or overbearing with its bevy of influences. We get everything from classic country, folk, aforementioned bubblegum pop, and a few rock elements (although not as much as in previous records). Even at over an hour long, most of the material doesn't feel tacked on or overstuffed. Imagine seeing a great movie; everything feels quicker when the film is really well done, and you don't feel like you're looking at your watch every ten minutes. The same mostly applies here; with enough twists and turns here and there so it doesn't get boring, but more of what the fanbase expects and wants all the same.
Admittedly, most of the lyrics are old hat here, and some people might be disappointed at the fact that Swift still reminisces about her love experiences for the fourth time. However, her vocals are a bit more engaging this time, more varied and a bit more emotive here. Between sweet harmonies, longing croons, and soft intimate near-whispers, Swift seems extremely invested in every minute of her record, even when its faults are clear. The honesty and diversity of her vocal work is key here, and she pulls it off in a fantastic way.
Unfortunately, not everything is all sugar and rainbows. Occasionally, Swift's recent influences can hit a little too close in familiarity; Avril Lavigne especially comes to mind when songs like "I Almost Do" and the aforementioned "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" start playing, with very similar hooks and overall songwriting to the Canadian star (although still marginally better in this case). Plus, there's a problem that's generally common with a lot of pop records; unfortunately, the songs do tend to run together. Mainly in the middle of the album, there's a bit of a dull patch with some filler, songs around this area not particularly bringing anything new to the table musically or lyrically. There's just not a lot of engaging songwriting in some of those tracks; "Holy Ground" and "Stay, Stay, Stay" (despite a peppy beginning motif) specifically come to mind.
Taylor Swift is still growing musically, though, and that is perhaps the most important thing about Red. Swift is now finding what really makes her shine with this album, and I have a strong feeling that her next record will display the sweet results of how far she's progressing. As for this one, it's another great highlight for her discography.