Review: Taylor Swift, 'Red'

Jon Dolan
Rolling Stone

Taylor Swift Red Big Machine

Like Kanye West, Taylor Swift is a turbine of artistic ambition and superstar drama. So it's no surprise she manages to make her fourth album both her Joni Mitchell-influenced maturity binge and her Max Martin-abetted pop move – and have it seem not just inevitable but natural.

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Red is a 16-song geyser of willful eclecticism that's only tangentially related to Nashville (much like Swift herself at this point). The album pinballs from the U2-tinged liftoff of "State of Grace" to the dubstep-y teen pop of "I Knew You Were Trouble" to "The Last Time," a sad piano duet with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol. Swift's bedrock is driving, diaristic post-country rock – see the breakup flashback "All Too Well," where she drops the great image of "dancing around the kitchen in the refrigerator light" with her ex.

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Part of the fun is watching Swift find her pony-footing on Great Songwriter Mountain. She often succeeds in joining the Joni/Carole King tradition of stark-relief emotional mapping: "Loving him is like trying to change your mind once you're already flying through the free fall," she sings on the simile-monsoon title track, where banjos and vocoders make out like third cousins. But whether she's real-talking Jake Gyllenhaal ("We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together") or fantasizing about crashing "a yacht-club party" that sounds uncannily like the Kennedy bash she attended with her current future-ex-boyfriend Conor ("Starlight"), her self-discovery project is one of the best stories in pop. When she's really on, her songs are like tattoos.