Whether or not you buy into Taylor Swift's dew-eyed tales of shattered hearts, there's no denying her commercial clout. By design, she has become a brand unto herself.
At the tender age of 22, she's sold more than 22 million albums worldwide, and there's no reason to think her fourth studio effort, Red, won't likewise join that multiplatinum parade.
Yet, just as she did on her previous three records, Swift is so tightly focused on her own romantic travails that listening to all 16 tracks becomes the sonic equivalent of being trapped at a party, cornered by a woman who simply must unload all of her personal baggage on you.
How many gauzy, delicately rendered songs about the end of a "beautiful, tragic love affair" (as she sings on Sad Beautiful Tragic) can one person author? As has been said so many times previously, Swift's love life, while important to her, is deadly dull for those of us on the outside -- not that she doesn't try to convince listeners otherwise.
"My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love," Swift writes in the liner notes. "[T]here is something to be said for being young and needing someone so badly, you jump in head-first without looking." The reckless romantic, who aside from collaborations with Max Martin, Shellback, Ed Sheeran and Gary Lightbody, penned the bulk of this hourlong affair. It is polished to a high gloss that all but abandons Nashville for the glittering possibilities of the pop mainstream.
Apart from a smattering of banjo and mandolin here and there, Red is Swift's most unabashedly pop effort yet (lead single We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together wouldn't sound out of place on a Kelly Clarkson, Pink or Katy Perry album). On that score, at least, it's refreshing she has ceased trying to have it both ways.
But the vicious cycle will remain unbroken -- Red will move hundreds of thousands of units, Swift will continue to mine her personal life for heartbreak and inspiration, until her core audience grows weary of her shtick and moves on to artists who offer more rewarding listening experiences.