The album itself lives up to the hype, however.
It opens up with the Katy Perry-esque “State of Grace” where she sings, “love is a ruthless game.” That line sets the tone and theme for the entire album. Like her albums before Red, Swift uses love-found and love-lost as the trigger to write, for the most part, intensely revealing looks into her soul. It is wild that, in a music production effort to cross all boundaries and be all things to all people, she’s kept it immensely personal and unique to herself. While bringing in all kinds of outside influences like co-writers, (which she had none of on her last album), and producers from the pop side of things, she’s somehow kept the intimacy of her own life story of boyfriends, friendships, life as a twenty-something and aspirations. Lyrically, it’s magic.
Is it country? No, not always. Uneven as a result? Perhaps. Does it matter? Not really. Swift has reached that point where she transcends the genre anyway. She’s become bigger than the Nashville box. She’s 22. Let her explore her creative muse. So far, she’s made it well worth going along for the ride.
The highlights are many. “All Too Well” is a set of intimate snapshots and specific painted pictures of a lost relationship built around a lost scarf where she shows off a bit more vocal range than normal. "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is pure ear candy. The sassy kiss-off is infectious and hard to get out of your head. Her duet with Ireland-native Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, “The Last Time,” is a fascinating choice of partner and is terrific for his/their unique vocal stylings that blend remarkably well. “The Lucky One” is a deep look at the tortures of fame from both sides of aspiration and looking back down once you get there. English Ed Sheeran, another interesting choice off of the mainstream Nashville radar, shines on the duet, “Everything Has Changed.”
Swift saves the best for last, however. As she’s done so well across the rest of the album, she pulls back the comforter on the intimacy of a relationship on “Begin Again.” This one is a first date where she exquisitely details out the intricacies of the nervousness that comes with it. She’s unsure she can put her heart out there again after having been burned before, “But on a Wednesday in a café, I watched it begin again.” In just under four minutes, she reveals what insecurities from her past relationship influence this new one, how this encounter shakes (some of) those fears, and how she is effectively putting the past behind her. Her breathless vocal stylings perfectly reflect that apprehensiveness.
Four stars out of five