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You knew it was coming. So without further delay, here are my thoughts on Red, the new album by Taylor Swift.

With the release of her fourth studio album, Taylor Swift continues her transition away from mainstream country music to a kind of hybrid sound that more resembles pop music disguised as country music.

If her last album, Speak Now, began the transition, Red‘s debut single “We Are Never, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together“, continues the transition by leaps and bounds. There are still familiar elements to this album, but gone are the days of “Teardrops on My Guitar” and “Breathe.”

However, while the sound may have evolved, all the usual suspects are present in the lyrics. The coming of age songs, breakup songs, revenge songs, and hopeless romantic songs all make their appearance.

These themes serve as low-hanging fruit for the critics, but they are also what draw the bazillions in sales. She writes for her audience, critics aside.

These are staples of every album. It’s just what she does.

And she does it better than almost anyone we’ve seen in any genre of music since Alanis dropped Jagged Little Pill in 1995.

There is one issue with the album—too many songs. With 16 cuts on the record, it makes room for songs that should have been left off. The album would have been much tighter at 12 or 13 songs. There are a couple of duds in here including the redundant opening track “State of Grace” (for what it’s worth, the acoustic version on the Deluxe album, is a much better rendition). There’s also the awkward sounding opening riffs on a ukelele in “Stay Stay Stay” (totally unnecessary).

But the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.

Swift might have written her best song ever on this album—”All Too Well.” After “Back to December” and “Dear John” from Speak Now and “Fifteen” and “Love Story” from Fearless, I didn’t think this was possible. But “All Too Well” matches, if not surpasses all of those in both emotion and depth. The final track “Begin Again” also is a very well written song and closes the album with the promise of new love. Another interesting song is “Starlight” which recounts the tale of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy meeting.

There are also the duets—one with Ed Sheeran and another with Gary Lightbody. Both are good collaborations even if their sound is similar.

Red — Taylor Swift (8.5 out of 10)

1. State Of Grace – 4, redundant chorus; acoustic version is better than album version
2. Red – 8, creative lyrics; great hook
3. Treacherous – 7, one of the more “traditional” songs on the album
4. I Knew You Were Trouble. – 5, sounds like a Miley Cyrus leftover
5. All Too Well – 10, best song on the album
6. 22 – 7, more of the pop transition evident here
7. I Almost Do – 9, feels like it belongs on Speak Now or Fearless
8. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – 9, catchy; upbeat
9. Stay Stay Stay – 5, no need for the ukelele
10. The Last Time – 8, great harmonies here; nice addition of the strings as well
11. Holy Ground – 9, driving, upbeat song; perfect road trip song
12. Sad Beautiful Tragic – 8, melancholy ballad
13. The Lucky One – 8, great story telling; would love to know the subject of this song
14. Everything Has Changed – 9, Ed Sheeran is brilliant here
15. Starlight – 9, brilliant song about Ethel and Bobby Kennedy
16. Begin Again – 10, second best song on the album

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