Taylor Swift's new album, 'Red,' doesn't provide much to quiet the haters who will forever accuse her of being "too pop." It's inaccurate to say she leans that way on most of the 16 new songs. That tower in Pisa leans. Swift is in a pike position diving toward sugary waters. 

But really, what were you expecting? A tribute to Patsy Cline or Kitty Wells? Swift's biggest achievement on 'Red' is continuing to ignore critics looking to hold her back. Her songwriting is sharper than ever. Vocal training pays off in a big way (especially late in the album), and there is the familiar balance of glee and heartache one craves.

'State of Grace' and the titletrack set the tone for an album that is surprisingly optimistic. Swift spends most of her time recognizing heartbreak, but fighting a vulnerable fight to find true love. "This love is treacherous / This path is reckless / This love is treacherous / And I, I, I like it," she sings on song No. 3, 'Treacherous,' the first song to feature an organic instrument.

The song 'Red' will be a country hit, even with the Katy Perry-esque effects that come after each chorus. "Loving him is like driving a new Maserati down a dead end street / Faster than the wind / Passionate as sin / Ended so suddenly," she sings to begin the song -- one of her best ever.

The next five songs swing between dance-influenced jams and folk ballads. Her small army of producers have albums by Pink, Britney Spears and Kanye West on their resumes, and Swift embraces thicker production -- and auto-tune -- often on cuts like 'I Knew You Were Trouble' and '22.' The first is a good song, aside from the "me-e-e-e--eees." '22'... not so much, but the return of acoustic guitar on 'All Too Well' is welcomed with a smile and open arms. The middle of the album is weak overall, with 'I Almost Do' being an emotional but flat lyric.

After the first single, country fans will find the most nourishing material. 'Stay, Stay, Stay' is an outrageously contagious story of a love that works because her beau isn't afraid to work through troubles. Conversely, 'Sad Beautiful Tragic' is an eerie, depressing ballad that recalls the Civil Wars, or maybe Jenny Lewis. It's the most heartwrenching story Swift has ever recorded.

"In dreams, I meet you in long conversation / We both wake in lonely beds, and different cities / And time is taking its sweet time erasing you / And you've got your demons, and darling, they all look like me," she sings with newfound patience and maturity. This song is followed by the equally professional 'The Lucky One,' which is perhaps the most introspective song of the album.

One smear is the collaboration with Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody. He opens the the heavy, brooding ballad as if it's his own song. Swift stretches out in the back seat, and 'The Last Time' never recovers. It's the only pure skip-ahead moment on the album, although each fan can argue for three or four songs 'Red' could do without.

The sheer size of 'Red' makes it difficult to consume in just one or two listens. The shortest track runs 3:17, but most push four, or even five, minutes. It gets better with each listen, as one notices the clever nuances -- like how 'Holy Ground' is improved because it follows 'The Last Time.' It's tempting to compare her fourth album to Faith Hill's 2002 album 'Cry,' but Swift's poppiest album is still rooted in great songwriting. Expect four or five hit country songs before she reloads for album No. 5 in another two years.

4 Stars

Listen to Taylor Swift, 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together'
Listen to Taylor Swift, 'Begin Again'
Hear a Sample of Taylor Swift, 'Red'
Hear a Sample of Taylor Swift, 'I Knew You Were Trouble'
Hear a Sample of Taylor Swift, 'State of Grace'

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