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Taylor Swift’s quirks removed by the hit machine on Red: Album review

Written By imam santoso on Monday, October 22, 2012 | 8:37 PM

At 22, Taylor Swift has already launched a whopping 50 songs into the Billboard Hot 100. One might rightfully expect such wild success to grant Swift licence to cut loose from the machine and do whatever the hell she wants on her fourth album, then, but it’s actually quite the opposite is true of Red.

Wild success appears only to have inspired the perpetually lovelorn Nashville-pop sweetheart and her handlers to consolidate her hold on that success by playing it as safe as they ever have and further erasing the few quirks of character that separate Swift from her female peers on the charts.

Red is as chockablock with winning tunes and relatably girlish kiss-offs to the boys who got away as Swift’s previous recordings. It’s the first Swift record, however, to bring in a bunch of high-priced hired guns — ubiquitous behind-the-scenesters Jacknife Lee, Butch Walker, Jeff Bhasker, Dan Wilson and Max Martin and Shellback all turn up in the songwriting and production credits — above and beyond her longtime producer/collaborator Nathan Chapman, however. It sounds much less like the work of Taylor Swift and more like the work of everyone else who can afford to hire the same people to make sure their records don’t rattle the masses with any surprises.

So while much of the advance press for Red might bill it as Swift’s most “adventurous” album, it’s only really an adventure in the most conservative sense. Sending an utterly unnecessary jolt of dubstep bass through “I Knew You Were Trouble,” or shamelessly knocking off U2 for a shot at rock-radio play on “State of Grace” are moves that hardly count as “risk taking” in late 2012.

Both decisions fall into the “just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should” category, and that gets in the way of the “aw shucks” country-pop charms that made Swift’s earlier albums stand out slightly from the rest of the plastic pack.

Most of Red’s remaining ties to country music are as cosmetic as the banjo ticking away quietly in the background to the processed arrangements of the title track and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” since even the ballads tend to get steamrollered by a heap of MOR soft-rock production clichés by the time their choruses roll around.

At a wearisome 66 minutes long, too, Red really gives you time for the general facelessness of its program to sink in. Swift is still as likeable as pop stars get, but she’s losing definition.

Top track: “All Too Well.” Taylor rises above the memory of a picture-perfect Thanksgiving weekend with her ex, who still keeps a scarf that “smells like me” in his drawer.

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