August 3, 2013
Being a great songwriter can be just as much about being distinctive and unique as it is about writing great songs. Being a great songwriter that records her own material requires not getting in the way of your own song.
“Red” isn’t necessarily a great song, but it is a song that could only be written by Taylor Swift. It has a lot of lines that would be awkward on their own but somehow make sense when thrown together. She makes fairly benign observations throughout, but they gather meaning as she goes along. Her writer’s voice is so authoritative that she can compare a lover’s quarrel to a difficult crossword puzzle, with the punchline being that “there’s no right answer”, and it sounds like such an obvious metaphor that you’re surprised no one thought of it before.
I really do like the song, and I think that I’d put in heavy rotation if it wasn’t for the bewildering echo effect on the title word when it ends the chorus. I’m totally baffled. I happen to like a lot of electronic music, and the effect itself is somewhat interesting, if not particularly compelling. It feels like a gimmicky flourish that you’d use to cover up the weakness of a song, rather than undermining the strength of a very good one.
I’ve been around enough to know the difference between a sound that’s progressive and forward-thinking, and one that’s a novelty that will soon be dated. “Red” as a record would hold up a bit better over time if the song had been allowed to stand on its own.
Written by Taylor Swift