Speak Now

Taylor Swift

Big Machine, 2010

http://www.taylorswift.com

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/08/2010

Can a million fans be wrong? Well, probably. But in the case of pop sensation and media darling Taylor Swift, her latest album shifting over a million copies in its first week and charting in the Billboard Top 100 makes perfect sense. People will tout T-Swift’s talent as being all the more incredible in light of her being twenty years old, but what recent pop acts are really rivaling her ability to craft increasingly listenable, affecting, technically stunning singles, let alone full albums?

I did my best to resist the powers of T-Swizzle, having little love for anything country-related or beaten to death on the radio à la last year’s ubiquitous “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.” She just seemed so cheesy and naïve, singing simpering little love stories about princes and princesses. Her songs were incredibly catchy, to be sure. But I like my music with meat to it, music that isn’t just well-crafted but heartfelt, too. And then I heard “Mine,” the lead single off this album, a cut that’s left the high-school halls of “Fifteen” to instead tackle what’s real and true about love: not the Cupid, pink hearts and ponies side of love, but the disarray and devotion that makes a relationship. She throws off a line like “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter,” encapsulating with ease the hang-ups and heartbreaks we’ve all had.  Not to mention the production of this song is flawless, all soaring choruses and her clear, pure, voice – it’s a perfect lead-in for what is an all-around lovely album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The buzz around Speak Now was epic, partly because of all the Hollywood heartthrobs that Swift is reportedly skewering in song, whether it’s John Mayer in “Dear John,” Joe Jonas and new love Camilla Belle in the rocking, tart “Better Than Revenge,” or revisiting the Kane West VMAs incident in the stunning “Innocent.” All of that adds layers of drama and intrigue to the songs, but these are tracks that would stand on their own without eager prying into the back-story. “Dear John,” for one, shows incredible artistic growth from Swift’s previous efforts, with lyrics that are by turn mature, revealing, and familiarly lovelorn. Subtle guitar soloing and slow-burning codas all build to the track’s catharsis: “all the girls that you run dry with tired, lifeless eyes / ‘Cause you burned them out / But I took your matches before fire could catch me, so don't look now: I'm shining like fireworks over your sad, empty town.” It’s a bold statement of sentiment from a girl whose biggest hit was about a nerdy girl pining for the boy next door.

One of Speak Now’s greatest strengths is its unadulterated energy; this isn’t pop content to just be pretty and catchy. Songs like “Better Than Revenge” are pulsing with energy and verve (“You might have him, but I always get the last word”), while “Mean” has a sweet country swagger to it as Swift tells off her critics. Even the tracks that I can’t quite listen to anymore – “Back To December,” the title track, and “Never Grow Up” – have their charms, particularly “Speak Now,” which recounts the tale of a girl stepping in to speak as her love is about to get married to a bride “wearing a gown shaped like a pastry.” There’s a cheesiness to it that somehow manages to be charming, especially in lines that hit with dagger-like precision (“The organ starts to play a song that sounds like a death march”), so that even though I’ve heard this overplayed to death in the short month since it’s been released, I can appreciate where Swift was headed.

I have nothing but love for this album, and not just as a guilty-pleasure pop offering. This is a cohesive statement from one of pop’s most talented stars, and it just proves that Taylor Swift is only getting better. Her songs boast not just craft but, more importantly, there’s a vibrant heart beating behind every track here. She may get lambasted for penning every relationship slight into a song, but who among us wouldn’t love that kind of catharsis? And there’s something to be said for a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve; like her or not, it sure makes for good music.

Rating: A-

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