Taylor Swift: Speak Now

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Posted November 10, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

“Speak Now” or forever hold your peace: new album assures Taylor Swift’s fans that she’s assembled her best album yet

Kanye West certainly grants goosebumps on those he toy with. Even former U.S. president George W. Bush cited, in his newly-published memoir, that the hip-hop giant’s rant on a Katrina benefit fund raiser was his worst moment during his two-term presidency. The infamously embarrassing moment on the MTV VMAs, where West charged across the stage to plug Beyoncé, may have been Taylor Swift’s biggest nightmare, but on her new album Speak Now, where she deal with the situation a year later on “Innocent,” she finds a silly way to forgive West while also exposing his immaturity (It’s okay, life is a tough crowd/32, and still growin’ up now/Who you are is not what you did/You’re still an innocent”). West did give the Grammy-winning country pop star a bad day but it may have been the motivation needed to challenge Swift to pump out a stronger product; one that reflects artistic growth and a necessary transition from teen tunes into grown-up lyricism.

On Speak Now, Swift departs some of her familiar comfort levels. The biggest being her 180-degree turn away from co-writers; writing the album entirely on her own. And even if her intimate storytelling about growing up and relationship ups-and-downs resembles country time lemonade minus the perky tartness, her attempts at country pop are showing signs of progress.

With some tweaking, the songs may have all the power ingredients for immediate crossover appeal, but Swift is a country star with glitter, even if her 35-and under fan base want to hold her to a different standard. “Mine” and the upbeat title cut are bound to target pop radio, much like “You Belong With Me” did, but some of the excessive razzle dazzle seems to be getting left behind on her car seat, as she strums to a set of tunes that defines musical and lyrical maturity. The sting-seduced apology of “Back To December” finds Swift confronting an ex, playfully happy in the beginning but then slowly walking into her heart of sorrow and wishful thinking to make amends. It’s a step up from the adolescent anthems of her back catalog, even if her progression – even using seasonal changes to describe a love affair gone wrong – seems a bit unrealistic on paper.

“Dear John” continues her ascension into bigger, more elaborate arrangements. Using a soulful “Purple Rain”-ish tempo, Swift carves out a song that reveals a young woman healing from the hurts of puppy love (“Dear John/I see it all now that you’re gone/Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?/The girl in the dress cried the whole way home/I should’ve known”). But the arrangement and the careful pacing of the lyrics, despite Swift’s admission into the school of hard knocks, gives the song a good share of smartness. The same for “Long Live,” which plays with Kings of Leon Southern rock and a glossy coat of majestic AC pop glamor.

The album is a bit tedious: fourteen studio tracks mostly stretching across the five-minute mark and tending to sound melodically repetitive. But the experience of Speak Now is far more entertaining and rewarding musically than her previous works. Plus Swift has done a vocal upgrade. Unlike her previous efforts where Swift can be heard wrestling with an imbalance of twang-talk phrasing, cozy light tones and kiddie staccatos atop wordy songs. On Speak Now, she holds her notes with an ooze of confidence; even belting longer and stronger than before, like on “Dear John,” the rock-pop ballad “Haunted” and on “Enchanted.” Rather than sounding like a cousin of Miley Cyrus, she comes off looking like an heir of Shania Twain. There’s much work to be done, but Speak Now is a confident step in the right direction.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 25 October 2010
  • Label: Big Machine
  • Producers: Nathan Chapman, Taylor Swift
  • Track Favs: Mine, Dear John, Speak Now, Haunted, Back to December

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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