What To Read This Week: Four Parts Taylor Swift, One Part Free Jazz Edition
This week, we learned how the TV show Nashville fits into the long tradition of the country duet, why Meshell Ndegeocello covering Nina Simone makes all the sense in the world, and how Gary Clark, Jr. grew from the boy wonder of Austin's blues scene into a national star. But mostly, this week was all about Taylor.
Below are four stories on the significance — for country, for pop, for the industry and for the artist herself — of Taylor Swift's fourth album, Red, released this past Monday. Read to the end for a palate-cleanser: a profile of a free-jazz musician who lives and speaks like a Tom Waits character.
Looking for Red on Spotify? Keep dreaming: The album isn't available on any of the major streaming services. Drop $22 at a Papa John's, though, and you can walk out with a large pizza in one hand and a copy of Taylor Swift's latest in the other. Glenn Peoples, Nashville-based writer for Billboard, explains why Swift's label, Big Machine, has elected to forgo subscription services for the time being and instead focus on retail exclusives. The chains are playing along, and some are doubling down (see Keds' limited edition Red-themed sneakers, available for $50). It's looking like a good gamble — Red is on track to sell more than a million copies in its first week in stores. -- Daoud Tyler-Ameen
Those pizza boxes and shoes emblazoned with Swift branding are a reminder of her omnipresence. For several years now, pop critic chatter about her has never dipped below a steady hum; her career is better understood as points on a continuum than a set of distinct chapters. In a wide-ranging review, The New York Times' Jon Caramanica says there's a reason for that: Swift has made an effort to evolve slowly, never alienating her young audience in pursuit of a bigger one. Red, he argues, might be the tipping point, where folksy innocence becomes limiting and a true pop breakout becomes the only way to move forward. -- Daoud Tyler-Ameen
Over at Grantland, Molly Lambert focuses on the human touches in Swift's new songs. Not finger-picked guitars or unretouched vocals, but lyrics like "I'll do anything you say if you say it with your hands." It's a bit shocking, Lambert writes, but also "a relief that Taylor has opted not to get trapped in her presexual princess phase forever." Parsing the album's lyrics alongside evidence presented by photos of public romances in gossip mags, she reads maturity in Swift's lust, but also in her growing self-awareness of the way that chasing emotions to their limits can end in a crash. -- Jacob Ganz
What does Swift have to say for herself? She talks to SPIN about Joni Mitchell, the TV show Nashville, the novels she wrote as a teenager and the diversity of sounds on the new album, which include the dubsteppy track "I Knew You Were Trouble." Says Swift: "I wanted the song to sound as chaotic as the emotion felt. I wanted it to be loud and out of control." She even shows a little restraint when the magazine tries to get her to reveal the real-life indie-loving inspiration for her chart-topping "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together." That counts as maturity, right? -- Jacob Ganz
In an endlessly quotable Wire profile on Peter Brotzmann, there's one detail from writer David Keenan that brings me such joy and duly confirms the German free-jazz saxophonist's long-established bad-assness: "These days, the only people he has any regular contact with in his hometown are the butcher, the cheesemonger and the tobacconist." This is the cigar-chomping, bear of a man that seriously brought the noise to free-jazz with records like the game-changing Machine Gun and crossed the Euro-American jazz divide with the Chicago Tentet. Brotzmann is not a man of many words, but here expounds upon sex in jazz (and today's lack thereof), how art's become too introspective, his long-running musical relationship with drummer madman Han Bennink, and, in perhaps his most vulnerable moment, how his father was drafted into the SS during WWII and how that's shaped a generation of German artists. Keenan's profile (and a nice discography primer by Daniel Spicer), by the way, are available to read only via the physical magazine or digitally through an online subscription. The Wire also has a lovely iPad app in both a yearly subscription or on a pay-as-you-go basis. -- Lars Gotrich, who also made a Spotify list you should listen to.