On her accomplished, unapologetic new album, Swift does things her way, in Bigger Than the Sound.
“This is the golden age of something good,” Taylor Swift sings on “State of Grace,” the opening track of her Red album, and though she says the song is about the promise of a new relationship, it’s difficult not to add additional import to the line — especially after hearing her fantastic new record in full.
Because this is an album she’s spent her entire career building toward. Each hit she’s scored, every award she’s won and all the high-profile breakups she’s endured have led to its creation. Red is, in every conceivable way, her bid for artistic freedom, not only her most mature and accomplished album, but also her most unapologetic. No longer content to be shoehorned into country, she fully embraces her pop side, working with Max Martin and Shellback on a trio of tracks. Not concerned with being cool, she disses hipsters and writes songs with dudes like Ed Sheeran (though she does have Arcade Fire pal Owen Pallett conduct the strings at one point). And undeterred by her age, or her critics, she fully shoulders the load, writing each of Red’s 16 songs and — very prominently — taking a “creative director” credit in its liner notes.
In short, this is her album, on her terms. Her songwriting has grown by leaps and bounds, most notably on the standouts “All Too Well,” a heart-wrenching breakup tune that is almost certainly about her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal — mentions of a scarf he kept ”Because it reminds you of innocence/ And it smells like me” and lines like “[You] used to bea little kid with glasses/ On a twin-sized bed” make it easy to play amateur detective — the deceptively simple “I Almost Do” and the aptly named “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” a hushed, intimate number that (really genuinely sort of) recalls Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” with its winsome vocals and blurry keys overlaid over a somber acoustic guitar.