Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Big Red Machine ft. Taylor Swift – Renegade

In which we get our shit together, and our many, many blurbs…


Wayne Weizhen Zhang: I’m mostly over Taylor Swift’s dalliances with Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon, but I also have an impossible soft spot for anything that reminds me of The Postal Service. This sounds like 2001 and 2021 at the same time in a way that can only be described as delightful. 

Andrew Karpan: I really do think these Taylor “indie” records are getting better with each go. She’s reworking her own idea of how her songs look and feel to make music both esoteric and approachable, kinda like Joni Mitchell or Carole King or whoever else else Rob Sheffield has always gone on about comparing Swift to. She has even inspired some of the shiniest and, perhaps, best work from both Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner — whose work in their own sad bastard bands can best be described as murky. But what “Renegade” might prove most is that there’s only one direction Swift can push a movement, and that’s to the center. It’s hard not to think that she’s become — to borrow a line from a 1974 review of a Gordon Lightfoot album — an “uncompromising proponent of commercial folk music.”

Katherine St Asaph: There continues to be no song so bland, so beige, so plodding and unambitious, that people won’t think is otherwise because Taylor Swift’s name is on it. (Seldom are names so ill-suited to their band; if only this sounded anything like a big red machine, rather than a small straw wreath from Pottery Barn.) If you took the next Lewis Capaldi single and claimed Taylor did backing vocals or wrote a lyric somewhere, I guarantee it’d clear a [6].

Thomas Inskeep: It’s not quite the follow-up to evermore you might anticipate: the musical bits and bobs Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner include make this definitely a Big Red Machine single and not one of Swift’s own. There’s a lot of shared DNA with the Postal Service, actually, and much like Give Up, this gets richer over continued plays.

Nortey Dowuona: The synths lead in Taylor’s soft voice over the drums and guitar, just above Bon Iver’s growl. A flute flits away, then the mix swallows Taylor as the drums and synths and that giggling guitar lope ahead, laughing at all their straining.

Vikram Joseph: Musically, this is folklore with the additional of some gentle electronic elements; it pitter-patters like light rain on a metal roof and sounds not unlike The Notwist covering a Taylor Swift song. But it diverges significantly from the storytelling and nostalgia of Swift’s last two records, being instead a painfully candid account of loving someone whose brain makes it near-impossible to do so. Lines like “if I would’ve known how sharp the pieces were you’d crumbled into, I might’ve let them lay” sound less brutal amid delicate, skittering electronic folk, but they’re brutal all the same. I’m not sure Justin Vernon’s vocals add much — it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever interlock with Swift as well as he did on “Exile” – but the songwriting comes through.

John S. Quinn-Puerta: While I loved “Seven,” here Swift has written her most cutthroat lyrics in years. The constant presence of organ-like synths underscores her repeated phrases, and the looping yet cut guitar emphasizes the almost chant-like quality of her vocal cadence. Vernon’s backing vocals drive it home.

Madi Ballista: The music is pleasant enough, even if the vocal rhythm doesn’t quite line up. But it’s hard to focus on the soothing twang of the guitars when the lyrics make the singer sound like such a huge jerk. We’re no strangers to T. Swift’s mean streak by now, but the subject matter here seems especially ruthless. “Is it insensitive for me to say get your shit together so I can love you?” Yes, actually. This kind of playing-the-victim framing makes me recoil, especially when it sounds like the subject of the song is in need of genuine help. Maybe I’m taking the lyrical content a little personally, but it’s really hard to get past how mean “Renegade” sounds.

Al Varela: There aren’t enough songs about being in love with someone who frustrates the hell out of you. For all the infatuation and bliss of finding your equal, love has just as many moments that test your dedication to your partner, especially when the best version of them is buried under insecurity and doubt. Taylor Swift knows this all too well (ha), mostly because she is that person who struggles through insecurity and doubt, especially in regards to her public image. My interpretation of “Renegades” is that Taylor is talking to herself through the eyes of her partner and asking when she’s going to get her shit together so she can be the person her partner knows that she is. Her delivery is almost angry: watching herself in this awful state brings out the most love her partner ever had for her, and he’s so desperate to see her get better that he has to get mean and honest about her state of mind. The production behind her from Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver is utterly beautiful, swarming with acoustic textures, soft synths, and the determined march of the drums, but it sounds like it’s just trying to power through the day — even if it’s more for her partner, and not for herself.

Alex Clifton: Taylor told me to get my shit together. I just wanted you to know: this is me trying.

Michael Hong: I saw the lyrics before I heard the song, and it’s funny how they don’t flow the way you’d expect. Nor do they carry the emotion you’d expect either: not frustrated, just weary. Swift carefully slots each word evenly into each beat, sounding like this isn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last time she makes her request. There’s a sense of comfort in stasis, though, one that counters any instinct to follow her advice. Big Red Machine mirror that sentiment with an arrangement that sounds like it’s constantly pushing forward yet going nowhere. Are we going to keep walking the familiar, or are you gonna get your shit together? The latter is the best course, but the familiarity of “Renegade” makes the former sound like a possibility, like we could perhaps live like that forever.

John Pinto: A “Long Story Short” rewrite that suffers a bit from the comparison. Still good! We’re just entering a phase of the prolific Dessner/Swift/Vernon partnership where some new songs are inherently going to cover the same ground as old ones.

Jeffrey Brister: It’s a perfectly listenable Taylor Swift song with a pretty and intricate arrangement. The melody and rhythm she has an ear for are enhanced by the swirling and skittering instrumentation wrapping around her voice, making “Renegade” something on the verge of being really special.

Alfred Soto: She’s become some singer: note where she places the stresses in “anxiety.” This confidence matches the aural crown molding: pitter-pattering rhythm tracks, acoustic plucks. As much as I dug the last two albums, time to move on.

Reader average: [10] (1 vote)

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