We were captivated by Taylor Swift‘s latest album Red, but with a deluge of reviewers weighing in on the album over the last several days, opinions are sure to vary. So what’s the critical consensus? Sometimes brilliant, largely inconsistent and definitely a departure. The varied production seems to have served her, as far as the critics are concerned, even if it produced a sometimes-jarring sonic experience — but that messiness also seems to have resonated as more authentic than her usual polish.
Swift has often been a critical darling, and this album is no exception, even if there are still detractors. But at the end of the day, her fans are going to buy it either way. Read a roundup of the reviews below.
:: The Guardian complimented the songwriting, noting that it remains a Swift album despite the presence of new producers: “In truth, Swift’s big international pop move for country-shy markets comprises a mere sprinkling of perky Max Martin productions, with the emphasis elsewhere being firmly on the songcraft. ‘All Too Well’ and ‘The Lucky One’ possess twists to make you gasp; as ever, Swift seems to know just the right phrase to pull you inside her break-up narratives.”
:: USA Today, too, thought the songwriting was effective, even as her sound evolved away from her country roots: The most noteworthy aspect of Taylor Swift’s engaging fourth studio album Red (*** ½ out of four), out today, is not that she’s ditched her country shadings (save for a mandolin or two) in favor of pure danceable pop. Rather, it’s that she continues to write ever-more convincingly — and wittily and painfully — about the messy emotions of a young twentysomething nearing the end of her transition from girl to woman.
:: Entertainment Weekly thought the album found Swift more in control than ever: “‘You look like bad news,” she purrs on ’22.’ ‘I gotta have you.’ One gets the feeling that it’s not this guy’s love she’s after. She’s just using him for the breakup songs. This time around, it’s getting harder to feel sorry for Swift. Whether she’s plucking her mandolin, belting out U2-inspired arena rock, or harmonizing with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol or Ed Sheeran, she never sounds happier than when she’s getting dumped hard enough to justify a good revenge anthem.
:: Rolling Stone complimented the record, writing that “[Swift]‘s self-discovery project is one of the best stories in pop. When she’s really on, her songs are like tattoos,” and seemed impressed at how the album managed to court both commercial attention and artistic resolve: “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. Red is a 16-song geyser of willful eclecticism that’s only tangentially related to Nashville (much like Swift herself at this point).”
:: Slant thought the album was a mixed bag, but that the highs were higher than ever: “While songs like ‘All Too Well’ and ‘Treacherous’ prove how adept Swift is at expressing genuine insights into complex relationship dynamics, there are also a handful of songs that lack her usual spark. Still, if Red is ultimately too uneven to be a truly great pop album, its highlights are career-best work for Swift, who now sounds like the pop star she was destined to be all along.”
:: The Huffington Post found the album mediocre, calling it a step down from the quality of her earlier work: “The album features songs that are big and stadium ready (she has a U2-like moment on album opener, ‘State of Grace’) and others that are soft and slow. But while Red contains its share of winners, many of the songs lack the colorfulness and vitality the album title suggests, leading to an overall letdown. Lyrically and sonically, the album lacks oomph and feeling: It sounds like we’ve heard it all from her before (check ‘Starlight’).
:: HitFix felt that the production showed range, even if the stylistic flourishes only served to make the music more palatable to her capricious fans: “Red says as much about her estimable abilities as a musical sponge as it does about how her generation of music fans casually disregards genres and embraces any song that speaks to them, regardless of the format some Clear Channel programmer has tried to pigeonhole it into.
But forget about Swift for a minute. On Red, her fourth studio album, the star is the drums. Almost every song, even the very few that will get country radio play, is produced with the drums well upfront in the mix and often with a full-throttle rock sensibility.”