Let’s not pretend that Taylor Swift is a country artist anymore. Even at her “country-iest,” she was always leaning on the pop side of things, but with the release of Red,her album that premieres today, she has basically burned her cowboy boots and used the ashes to make a really cool pattern on her American Apparel t-shirt. She has become a pop artist, full-stop, blending electro sounds and dance beats with her guitar-strumming tendencies.
Sometimes, the results are pretty good. I’ve said before that I respect Swift as a songwriter, and that hasn’t changed. Granted, I’d still love it if she sang about something other than her apparently endless parade of boyfriends, but I’d also like Lady Gaga to release an acoustic album. We don’t always get what we want. And if Tay Tay is bent on being the empress of pop romance, she’s at least doing a good job of it.
Here are my two favorite songs (and my least favorite track) from the empress’ latest gift to her subjects:
(1) “Holy Ground”
I like the lyrics here: Swift wanders New York, revisiting various places where she and an ex used to go, and she says that everywhere they once stood is now holy ground. I get that, you know? Standing somewhere and feeling the ghost of someone else—remembering a happy time you had there—it gives the place power. I also like the 80s alt-rock vibe of the music. (The verses do remind me that Swift isn’t a great singer, but mentioning that at this point is like mentioning that Meryl Streep is a talented actress.)
I’m not afraid of a power chorus, y’all. And on a song like “Red,” swift’s country roots are evident in the strong melody. Yes, there are weird little tweaks on her voice, like the robotic echo of the word “red,” but underneath that electro detail, there’s a really pretty tune.
(3) “The Last Time” (featuring Gary Lightbody)
Gary Lightbody is the lead singer of Snow Patrol, a band that released one amazing album—Eyes Open, the one with “Chasing Cars”—and then spent the next ten years delivering disappointment. So that makes “The Last Time” a bad Swift song and another bad Snow Patrol song.
Well… I guess “bad” is too strong a word. “The Last Time” is okay. But it’s basically a copy of “Set the Fire to the Third Bar,” which is a chill-inducing cut from Eyes Open that Snow Patrol recorded with Martha Wainwright. This version has all the dark chords and none of the eerie drama. It’s a snoozer.
Mark Blankenship has written about pop music for NPR and the New York Times. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.