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Red by Taylor Swift

Let’s get this out of the way: Red is not a country album. And don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. No, Taylor Swift’s latest, her fourth, is a pop album through and through. The only readily discernible trace of a traditional country instrument is the faint banjo in the title track.

With that in mind, some may argue that Red doesn’t warrant a review in a country music magazine—or on a country music website. But given all that Taylor has done in the genre, the wunderkind is simply impossible to ignore. She is a part of the country music zeitgeist and must be included in any discussion of the format.

So Red may not be a bona fide country album, but it could very well be a pop masterpiece, more in line with P!nk’s latest, The Truth About Love, than even Red’s predecessor, Speak Now. This isn’t much of a surprise, considering that pop-rock genius Butch Walker, who has worked extensively with P!nk, produced one of Red’s standout tracks, the Ed Sheeran duet “Everything Has Changed.” In fact, no less than eight different producers, from Nashville heavyweight Dann Huff to pop maestros Max Martin and Shellback, are scattered over Red’s 16 tracks, with varying results. “Starlight,” produced by Dann Huff, Nathan Chapman and Taylor herself, is a dazzler, custom-made for ecstatic nights in the club. Album opener “State of Grace” is a similar anthem, distinguished by a thumping-drum intro. Perhaps as a nod to Red’s matters of the heart, it is beating drums, all of them mixed right up front, that pump blood through the album. They drive the exuberant “Holy Ground” and offer welcome distortion in the fuzzy, buzzy “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

But Red’s beat does skip in spots. “The Last Time,” a collaboration with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, is plodding drudgery, and Tay’s affected hipster accent in “22” distracts from what would otherwise be another pop gem. Still, it's better than listening to some of today's wannabes adopt a faux country twang—which is something you certainly won’t hear on Red.

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