Album Review – Taylor Swift – Speak Now

26 Oct

For the sake of brevity and my own self-image, I’m going to limit myself in what I say about this album.  Is it the best album of 2010?  No.  Is it the best pop album of 2010? Now we’re getting somewhere.  Has Taylor outdone herself?  To an extent.  Could she do better?  God, I’d love to see her try.  To say I went into this album with caution would be an understatement.  From the first moment mine ears were privy to the sounds of “Mine”, I was ready for Fearless Pt. 2.  For the first five tracks of Speak Now, Swift lulls you into a sense of believing this is in fact the case.

Then “Mean” comes on.

My biggest complaint through the “years” of Taylor Swift’s existence is that she is supposed to be this wondrous country artist, and yet, is heralded as a pop princess.  Sweeping the CMT awards, but allowing your songs that are the purest country you’ve mustered (“Teardrops on my Guitar”) have a “pop” version created seemed like a slap in the face to what Taylor Swift was supposed to be.  Here, she has finally melded the pop country act into something that  feels really comfortable and, is truly entertaining.

“Mean” and “Story of Us” more than get that job done.  They’re country music at its best, plucky (pun intended) and all-around fun, while lyrically telling somewhat heartbreaking stories (the former).  And from there out, the album tries incredibly hard to stake a claim at best pop album…of all time.

Oh, did I make a Kanye reference?  Damn, I promised myself I wouldn’t.

Let’s look back on that fear of Fearless the Second.  It’s not unfounded.  First Taylor presents us with “Mine”, a nice little combo of the fluff from the previous album and the supposed maturity of the new.  Then she throws “Sparks Fly” at us, a song that is slightly more sexual than anything I’m used to hearing from Taylor (and don’t get your panties in a bunch, it’s NOT really all that sexual), but still not anything that screams “OH LOOK AT ME, I’M TAYLOR SWIFT.  I R SRS ARTIST.

Then we hit the title track and suddenly it’s like we’re in a loop again.  Remember that little song of hers called “You Belong With Me”?  It was a simple little diddy, not much happened with it, but it told the story of boy meets wrong girl and right girl wants to make the right thing happen.  When you strip it all down, “Speak Now” is that same song.  But here’s where it gets interesting.  I’d almost be willing to say that “Speak Now” is a better song.  What does that say?  Is it ok for Taylor to rewrite songs if she’s writing them far more successfully?

Skipping ahead, we come to the “Fifteen” of this album, “Never Grow Up”.  Same story with “Speak Now”.  Same song, different verse.  It’s at this point that I finally realized what “maturer” lyrics meant.  For one thing it’s the wrong word.  Swift’s lyrics were never immature to begin with, and that’s where the confusion comes from.  She’s older now.  She’s singing about things that become far more impressive when you realize she’s only twenty.  A song about the heartache a parent must feel when their child grows and becomes embarrassed by their parent’s inherent lameness?  A song that then turns itself inwards and realizes the pain of realizing you already have grown up and didn’t even realize it happened?  It’s something I’ve had to deal with personally a lot recently since graduating from college.  It’s a hard realization to come to terms with, and Swift managed to sum it up pretty well with her 20 years of wisdom.

The only big single from Fearless I don’t see a carbon copy of on this album is “White Horse”, and I was at first disappointed by this, since I find that to be the most powerful song on the album, but wait, I thought I wanted something new?  Is there a new, powerful, emotional, gut-wrenching ballad on this album?  You better believe it, and “Enchanted” is it.  With its incredible orchestration and from the heart vocals, it’s that strength one needs from a slower track.  If Taylor wants to be pop county that’s just fine, but if she’s going to do it, give it power.  Be in charge.  Tell those heart breakers, make them regret ever crossing T-Swizzy’s path.  The ballads are fun, but she gets dangerously close to drowning the album in them.  The power in “Enchanted” saves the album from that.

As far as other bits of observations go: This guy on backing vocals.  He’s been my least favorite part of recent live performances of Taylor’s I’ve seen on TV, but I can’t decide how I feel about his presence on this album.  On one hand, it makes the album feel more authentic to its genre, which is something I’ve been really wanting out of Taylor recently.  On the other, it also feels a bit clichéd for the same reason, and I don’t exactly love his voice.  In general though, I’m thinking it works.

Unfortunately, with such a long run time, this album was bound to be repetitive, and the sound I was loving with “Story of Us” and “Mean” begins to grow stale with “Better Than Revenge”.  Even if said track features some of those more risqué lyrics I was referring to above.  The same goes with closer “Long Live”.  She had more than sung her heart out at this point and one or two of these slower tracks could have gone, this one especially.

Finally: I did not going into this album knowing which songs were fact and which were fiction, save for the two obvious songs, “Dear John” and “Innocent”.  Getting a song about how much of a d-bag John Mayer is will always go down as a plus in my book.  It’s “Innocent” that really is the song that bares a bit of inspection.  “Innocent” is far better without being beat over the head about what it’s about, and I am referring to the (what might be viewed as) tackiness of the inclusion of the “Ima let you finish” video being shown before the performance of said song on this year’s VMAs.  It’s good to know what it’s about, it’s a wonderful apology accepted, please can we move on now song.  It’s also a song that can easily attributed to other things as well, which is a for sure winner.

TL;DR version:  Taylor Swift’s Speak Now is far and away an improvement over her previous two albums.  It’s not the game-changer I was expecting, but it is probably the best pop album of 2010.  A little self-editing would go a long way to sealing the deal.

Standout tracks: “Mean”, “Story of Us”, “Enchanted”, “Innocent”

Final Rating: 8.5/10

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2 Responses to “Album Review – Taylor Swift – Speak Now”

  1. divadevotee 13/11/2010 at 14:11 #

    Have to agree with your 8.5 rating. It’s a solid and surprisingly good album!

    divadevotee up and away!

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