independent

Thursday 24 April 2014

Red lights up the charts

TAYLOR Swift could release 15 Variations on The Angelus and score a hit in the US, such is the size and devotion of her fanbase. But the performance of new album ' Red' must come as a shock, even to the super confident 22-year-old.

The album is the year's smash hit, selling over a million in its first week, and making Swift the first female artist in history to notch up a million first week sales for two consecutive albums. And, in a first for the singer, ' Red' also soared straight to the top of both the UK and Irish album charts at the weekend.

So, is ' Red' as good as the stats suggest?

Before Swift's fourth album she built her largely American fanbase through a devastating ear for catchy melody and break-up songs of revenge and regret which her mainly female, teenage audience identified with.

Now she's all grown up, at 22, and keen to move on from songs about High School presssures and teen angst. And she's also loosening the shackles of the country music at the core of her first three albums.

Red's lead-off single ' We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' signalled a change not only in style but also in music direction. It saw the singer in buoyant, even playful, mood after a break-up, instead of wallowing in misery, plotting revenge.

Co-written and produced by the prolific Max Martin, the Swede behind hits by Britney Spears, Pink, Kelly Clarkson and others, 'We Are Never...' was Swift's most popfriendly song to date and brought her a first American number one single, and her highest chart placing in the UK.

Elsewhere on 'Red' there's further evidence of Swift exploring new territory. Opening track 'State Of Grace' is one part U2, one part Keane; 'I Knew You Were Trouble' - one of the best songs on the album - dips a toe into dubstep and pushes her hallmark vocal into uncharted waters; while 'Holy Ground' hammers along courtesy of the production skills of Jeff Bhasker (who has masterminded hits for Swift's one-time arch nemisis Kanye West), who Swift contacted after hearing his work on Fun's 'We Are Young'.

'Red' also sports a couple of pop duets, with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, and Ed Sheeran. Of the two, 'Everything Has Changed', her collaboration with Sheeran, works best, and the chemistry looks set to continue when Sheeran joins Swift on a 58-date US tour next year.

While 'Red' sees Swift make a complete crossover into pop/rock on some key tracks, she keeps it country the rest of the time.

An old-school storyteller, her talent for crafted lyrics and decent tunes is still evident in songs like the sublime, hopeful ' Begin Again' (' I've been spending the last eight months thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end. But on a Wednesday in a cafe I watched it begin again') and the classy 'All Too Well' on which Swift paints a vivid picture of heartache after a break-up: ' It was rare, I was there, I remember it all too well'.

But the writing is not always consistent, and the 16-song 'Red' is inflated with a few country-style fillers that should have been left on the studio floor.

'Red' is too long and uneven and risks alienating a big chunk of Swift's country following. But it's a brave stab at reaching out far beyond the walls of Nashville and for that the girl deserves some credit.

The new album's catchy title track, where twangy banjo meets electric pop, is the perfect example of Taylor Swift's tightrope walking between the music she grew up with and the music now having a major influence on her work. It's a tricky task but few can live with her when she gets the balance right. Listen to: 'I Knew You Were Trouble', 'State of Grace', 'All Too Well'.

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