“Red”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #4

[Note: You can access my ranking, ratings, and reviews of all of Taylor’s songs here!]

Well, with the surprise announcement that her eighth album (Folklore) is dropping tomorrow, it seems like as good a time as any to drop my reviews for Red!

Overall, Red is a great album with great tracks, but I think sometimes fans focus on the standouts and forget some of the forgettable tracks. It is a great album, but it’s also an uneven album, resting in the long shadows of Speak Now and 1989 on either side. And yet, buried within rests the greatest song ever recorded by Taylor Swift.

“Red” (released 2012)
“Dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light…

“State of Grace” (8/10): In this effective album opener with a great rolling beat, we’re far from the epic pageantry of the end of Speak Now, instead crashing into a world of busy streets, traffic lights, pain, and shades of wrong.

“Red” (8/10): I like the song as a whole and “driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street” is classic middle-era Swift imagery, but for the first time in a couple of albums her vocal tone flirts with whininess.

“Treacherous” (9.5/10): The song’s worldview is deeply at odds with my own beliefs about interpersonal relationships (no–we aren’t “just skin and bone trained to get along”; yes–it is a choice to “get swept away” into the arms of a lover), but that aside, the haunting chorus (which occurs late enough in the song that you could mistake it for a bridge) really elevates the power of this track.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” (8/10): This song brings a harder edge musically than anything prior, signaling the country-Taylor era has reached deep twilight and the full transition to pop-Taylor is nigh.

“All Too Well” (10/10): Unfortunately, I won’t give this one higher than a 10. But for this song, and this song only, I will break my one-sentence-per-song rule. So many Taylor Swift fans consider this to be her best song. They’re right.

“All Too Well” is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece. First, the sound–from the soft intro and the gentle chord that concludes it, to the subtle lack of resolution in the ending, and everything in between, every instrument and note works purposefully yet carefully to create emotion. And oh does the emotion build, and I love how it catches the listener by surprise. Suddenly you’re no longer in the sweet passion of young love, but instead caught in a maelstrom of betrayal. And in that maelstrom Taylor drops maybe her most powerful lines ever: “Then you call me up again just to break me like a promise! So casually cruel in the name of being honest; I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lyin’ here, because I remember it all too well…”

That lyric is great, but I fear we ignore so much other great wordplay and imagery here. That little town street; getting lost upstate; autumn leaves; the embarrassing childhood photo album on the counter; the scarf in the drawer; and one of my favorites, dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light… the lyrics deliver punch after punch right in the feels.

I so much enjoy every 10/10 Taylor song, but hearing this one is like moving up to another level, like entering another dimension. It’s the perfect fusion of country Taylor and pop Taylor. Not every song can or should be this, but here in this song, Taylor produced her greatest work so far–and the thing was never even released as a single!! Perhaps someday she’ll top this, but for now, it is the absolute pinnacle and showcase of Taylor Swift’s art. Speak Now may be the better album on balance, but Red has the best song of them all.

“22” (8/10): “Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” is such a perfect way to describe being 22, but someone diminished this song for me when they pointed out that Taylor often slurs the word “22” so badly that it sounds like “swimsuit.”

“I Almost Do” (5/10): One of the most unremarkable and forgettable songs in about two albums.

“We Are Never Getting Back Together” (7.5/10): I thought I liked this one more than I do, but after listening again, I think it’s almost a prototypical example of a Taylor song that I like OK enough but wouldn’t seek out when I’m looking for a song to play.

“Stay Stay Stay” (7/10): Taylor goes all in for playful and cute with this one, and it generally works.

“The Last Time” (9/10): I might be in a minority by giving this one a high score, but I like Swift and Lightbody’s voices together and the strong bridge kicks it up a notch.

“Holy Ground” (6/10): It’s the poster child for an OKish song that’s nobody’s favorite song.

“Sad Beautiful Tragic” (2/10): This lengthy, anemic, and exhaustingly repetitive song makes even “Last Kiss” look energetic.

“The Lucky One” (6.5/10): A poignant morality tale of the dangers of Hollywood, with themes she would revisit more personally and powerfully three albums later in “The Archer.”

“Everything Has Changed” (8.5/10): Another strong duet between Taylor and a male singer (this time Ed Sheeran), but I think “The Last Time” has just a bit more gravity to it.

“Starlight” (7.5/10): A thematically and musically upbeat song, and it’ll be awhile in the discography until Swift sounds this optimistic about romance again.

“Begin Again” (7/10): In contrast to the sweepingly epic songs that conclude Fearless and Speak Now, Taylor goes for reflectively thoughtful in the conclusion to Red; it mostly works, although it’s a track I might admire a bit more than I enjoy.

Red mean = 7.34 (standard deviation = 1.90)


2 thoughts on ““Red”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #4

  1. Man, I love this. I generally agree with most of your points.

    I would rate Holy Ground higher though. It’s actually one of my favorites in this album hahahaha. Most of her songs see breakup with a bitter light. But in Holy Ground, she reminisces a long-gone love with a positive outlook. It’s like saying, “Hey, it’s over. But that was fun.”

    That’s kinda healthy view of breakups and falling out really which is why I like it. Coupled with the pumping beat that keeps you going (reminds me of State of Grace to be honest; I kinda see them as sister tracks), and it’s just perfection.

    I’d also rate Stay Stay Stay waaaay lower. The track is just so obnoxiously generic, for me at least. The instrumental reminds me of those stock music you hear in business-related promotional videos.

    Overall, I’d rate the album a bit higher solely because of its personal significance to me. While the songs in Speak Now are not bad (in fact, I agree that majority are actually good songs), songs in Red almost perfectly coincide with my experience, having gone through one of those “red”, tumultuous relationship. I’m pretty sure plenty had similar experiences which is why fans hold Red as her most precious magnum opus.

    Browsing through your blog, you seem like an interesting person. Someone having “an extremely high level of appreciation for Taylor Swift’s music” is something I’d describe myself as well hhahahahah. I’m also entering college, specifically computer science, but I still have a soft spot for the humanities (which is weird because we’re at opposite sides of the spectrum).

    Your works are also interesting. Studies about relational maintenance (or relationships in general) are something that I’d NEED to read right now; it would help me with my personal life A LOT hahahaha.

    Anyway, I’m stoked to see your future reviews especially Folklore and Evermore. Reputation could be interesting too.

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog! And your comment was the kick I needed to post the reviews for 1989: https://andrewledbetter.com/2021/01/24/a-professor-reviews-taylor-swift-album-5-1989/

      Good thoughts… I hadn’t thought about the connection between “State of Grace” and “Holy Ground.” But I can see that musical connection now.

      I may have been a bit too hard on Red. It is a solid, solid album. I do think people may tend to remember some of the amazing highlights and forget some of the less impressive songs. But personal taste is definitely a thing, and the memories attached to an album can be powerful. So I hope my perspective as someone outside her main music demographic adds to the conversation.

      Best wishes as you enter college! I did a double major in computer science and communication, and I still work with coding today (in R) when I’m doing statistical analysis, so there are ways to combine disparate areas of interest. 🙂 Hope you have a great college experience!

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