on October 26, 2010
With "Speak Now" Taylor Swift ups the singer/songwriter aspect of her art and turns down the radio-ready emphasis a notch. It is a little less calculated and a little more comfortable than her last two, especially 2008's non-stop hit factory "Fearless."
It is also less focused and tight, but since this is Swift's debut effort without any co-writers, her melodies and lyrics composed independently, this was inevitable. The result is akin to comfort food - unpretentious, honest and warm. She has the natural talent and flair for catchy song craft to make a less precious recording - which "Speak Now" certainly is - work especially well.
Because Swift was clearly given more leeway to do as she pleases both her strengths and excesses are more prominently on display than previously. A few of her melodies sound simple and similar to one another, and she is often bursting with lyrics, with every other tune or so a bit overwritten. However, this is also one of the strengths of "Speak Now." It shows that Swift is the real deal - an artist from whom strong songs flow naturally.
Much has been made of the men whom Swift has written songs about, and that transparency shows her age, but "Speak Now" proves she does not need the controversy to validate the music. From the inventive, shrewd, near power-pop of "The Story of Us" and "Enchanted" to the elegant, apologetic "Back to December," these songs stand on their own.
Accents of country remain, but Swift is transitioning into pop/rock territory, and she cannot be blamed for it - at 20, she is, in spite of her major success, still finding her voice. "Mean" with its cheeky, smartly executed humor, is the only outright country tune.
"Someday I'll be living in a big old city and all you're ever gonna be is mean," she forecasts.
Her eye for detail and sense of levity are prominent. In the classy, tuneful title song she paints the picture of a wedding - which she hopes to put a stop to - in delightful detail:
"...and she is yelling at a bridesmaid somewhere back inside her room wearing a gown shaped like a pastry."
She also plays the role of big sister on "Innocent" and "Never Grow Up," affectionate odes to the importance of childhood. The latter especially demonstrates her depth as she sings of the importance of love, family and innocence.
"But don't make her drop you off around the block," she affectionately sings to her younger listeners about their mothers. "Remember that she's getting older too, and don't lose the way that you dance around in your PJs getting ready for school."
In an industry with plenty of flesh and flash and little substance, Taylor Swift remains refreshing and real, and "Speak Now" is just the right record for her to be releasing now - a collection of songs that proves the validity - and sincerity - of her still-burgeoning talent.
on October 25, 2010
I broke down and ponied up for the Deluxe Edition CD from the big red bullseye store just so I can answer some burning questions:
CD VS. DOWNLOAD - WINNER: CD!
Speak Now wins the prize for best CD packaging and booklet of the past decade (pricey box sets and reissues excluded). What you get: an embossed cover and an 18 page booklet filled with eye-popping color and some of the best photographs you'll ever see of Taylor. She playfully creates scenes from the songs - the damsel in distress on the train tracks gets the most press, but Taylor breaking up the wedding is the most hysterical. Plus - you get the rare shot of Taylor with straight hair. 2 pages of liner notes written by Taylor, lyrics - and a stellar shot of Taylor and her full band. Plus, the CD wins for superior sound. This brings back memories of bringing home an album on vinyl and having hours of artwork to pour over while listening to the album over and over.
STANDARD EDITION VS. DELUXE - WINNER: DELUXE
I'm not a big fan of pricier deluxe editions. Why exclude people from some of the content? Wouldn't it be better to encourage first-week sales by making all first-pressing CDs deluxe and then making it a collectible by taking it out of print. Afterward, making ALL the bonus tracks available for purchase online. But I digress - this is one of the most action-packed deluxe editions I've ever purchased. You get a different color dress on the cover; six bonus tracks (3 new songs, two acoustic versions and a remix). Of the new songs, Superman is a sure-fire radio hit. The others are simple and wonderful and would have fit in nicely on the album. The acoustic versions are nice but don't stray too far from the originals and I'd be hard pressed to notice too much difference between the Mine remix and the original version (a Victor Calderone club banger remix it isn't). As for the video content - who would think a half hour documentary about the making of a 3 minute video would be so captivating? It was one of the most enjoyable half hours of TV I've seen in years - despite the fact I thought the "enhanced CD" was a technology that died in the 90's. Best parts of the docu: Taylor getting attacked by bugs, Taylor coaching kids to act and the local Maine townspeople all but shutting down the shoot. Wait til you see how Taylor saves the day in the row boat.
Would Taylor Swift be so universally adored if she wasn't so adorable? Probably not. If you disagree, name one ugly pop star since the dawn of MTV - let alone CMT. Sure she's no stranger to the occasional flat note of off-key chorus, but thanks to the miracle of studio-wizardry anyone from T-Pain to Britney Spears can have a hit record these days. What sets Taylor apart is she proved you don't need to sell sex to sell records; you don't need to be on major label to top the charts; you don't need to be old to write songs that are universal tales about the human condition; you can be a role model without being a hypocrite or a prude; you can be a celebrity without being a train wreck - and most importantly for the sake of this review - you can pack 14 singles onto an album without a single dud. No filler here. This would have made a good soundtrack to summer, but we'll have to settle for it warming our hearts and tapping our toes all winter long. Sure, the road she's traveled in her 20 years is quite different from yours or mine, but the mark of a true artist is capturing snapshots of real life and presenting them in a way that is timeless, captivating and honest.
on October 25, 2010
First of all, I will admit that I was not a big fan of Taylor Swift before I listened to this album. I would confess that she is a decent songwriter and a decent singer. My complaint was that she lacked originality.
However, her songs were always so damn catchy! Every once in a while, there would be a song or two from her that I just couldn't get out of my head. This album made me respect her on a whole new level. Almost every song on here could be a radio hit, and the lyrics show incredible growth in maturity.
Many tracks are reminiscent of songs on her first two albums. "Mine" is particularly strong in it's poppy, giddy goodness. Also, "Enchanted" is very unique and "Sparks Fly" has an irresistible chorus.
The most impressive tracks on the album, however, show signs of Swift's maturing as an artist vocally and as a songwriter. "Dear John" and "Back to December" both bear ghosts of Swift's love life and are hauntingly emotive. "Never Grow Up" is a gorgeous track that brings nostalgic feelings with it, and "Innocent" is deeply reflective and carries wisdom. Her words are carefully chosen.
The album is not perfect however. Some of the weaker tracks, such as "Mean", "Speak Now", and "Long Live" show a lack of artistic ingenuity that Swift has worked so hard to develop on this album.
Overall, "Speak Now" is a CD that won't leave your iPod for a long time. You'll be humming the tracks in your sleep. Bravo! Color me impressed.
5/5 Stars, and probably the best album I've heard this year.
on October 28, 2010
I haven't bought an album since I was like 10. I bought this album after getting caught up in all the hype, and I do not regret my decision at all! Many have said "Mine" sounded like her previous albums but the songs on this new one are all quite dynamic...ballads, pop, country, everything. Best decision I've made all week to purchase this. I can't stop listening to it! Go Taylor!!
on November 28, 2011
First off, I wasn't always a Swift fan. I originally brushed her off as just another cookie cutter pop singer. Then "You Belong With Me" hit the airwaves. I LOVED the song but didn't want to admit it. Then I heard "Our Song." So infectiously catchy...still wanted to dislike her but getting harder to resist. Then came "Teardrops On My Guitar." Game over....I was officially a fan.
It's hard for a 25 (close to 26) year old guy to admit it but I truly LOVE Taylor Swift now. I have all 4 of her albums (including her Xmas one) and I just can't get enough of her. She truly has talent that is heads and shoulders above 90% of her musical peers. I recently went to her Speak Now concert and found out she could not only play the regular six string guitar and banjo, but she was amazing with the 12 string and the piano too!!
Her Speak Now album is her first album where she wrote every single one of her songs by herself and it shows in both good and bad ways (but mostly good). I find the songs to be much more honest and as such, some of them just aren't quite as catchy. (Haunted and Last Kiss come to mind). BUT Swift truly shines and stands out in her other songs (Mean, Speak Now, The Story of Us, Better Than Revenge, and ESPECIALLY Sparks Fly). That one line is simply ingrained into me and is just soooo touching "I'm on my guard for the rest of the world but with you, I know it's no good."
Simply put, if you're a fan of her 2 earlier albums, you will love Speak Now. The album as a whole is a bit more mellow and less upbeat but you can really hear Swift's talent and slow maturity in every one of her songs on this album. Please support artists such as Swift and John Mayer who actually have real talent and turn off all the lady gaga, katy perry, miley cyrus crap.
-Openly proud Taylor Swift fan
on October 27, 2010
I wondered if I was the only one who was getting tired of Taylor Swift and her lack of originality of song lyrics on her album? When the first single to "Speak Now" was released, all I could think was this song sounds like all the other songs Taylor has sung. And then I began to doubt the maturity of "Speak Now." I wondered if she had ever grown as a musician and if we were just going to get another album similar to "Fearless"?
Can I say that Taylor genuinely surprised me with the release of her third album? (BTW...thank you Amazon for selling the MP3 download version of her album for four dollars). Taylor is not screaming as much on this album as "Fearless": she's finding the key to her voice that is soothing and not making the ears cry out in mercy. But "Speak Now" is more than her voice maturity: on this album, you have solid lyrics. The songs aren't about puppy love--she's sings about true emotion...love that is beautiful, and love that is hurtful. The songs are about cherishing what you had as a young child and to value parents (a lesson that can only be learned by growing up). Taylor is not just focusing on past relationships...she's focusing on all aspects of her life from these past few years.
Most of the tracks on this album will have you singing from the top of your lungs or tug at your heart. I'm not a huge fan of "Mean"... to me, this is a very petty song. But I am not surprised that she wrote and sang about this event of her life. So in a way it fits.
Thanks for surprising me Taylor. I believe this is the album that does deserve an award.
on October 27, 2010
I've been playing this over and over really wanting to like it, but with the exception of a couple of songs, something's missing. I haven't been able to put a finger on it yet, but after going back and listening to Fearless, I'm starting to get some ideas about why Speak Now isn't striking a chord with me.
I'm not finding a "Love Story" here...or a "Fifteen"...or a number of other great songs from that album, but the reason is those songs have a lot of dynamic range, stronger melodies, and overall better production. A lot of songs on this new record are loud, from beginning to end.
I do think the lyrics are very good...very real. I listen to a variety of styles of music, and the appeal of Taylor Swift for me is that she writes real songs without the need for gimmicks. The lyrics mean something to her, and they are easy to relate to, whether you're 16 or 45. But the vehicle for the lyrics is the music, and that's where things fall flat for me here.
Yes, there's more variety in styles, from a decidedly country song with banjos ("Mean") to an Avril Lavigne-type rock song ("Better Than Revenge"), and everything in between. But when she leans too much towards country, it feels a little forced, and "Mean" has no originality to it whatsoever. A lot of the songs suffer from a lack of originality musically...they've been written hundreds of times before by many different artists. What saves them from total disaster are Swift's personal lyrics, so I'm not overly surprised with the positive reviews from fans and critics alike.
Thankfully, there are exceptions to the drop-off in music, melodies and production. Everyone seems to be talking about "Dear John", and it is good, mainly because of a passionate vocal performance. Still, it drags on and doesn't go anywhere musically. My heart starts to beat a little faster once I get to "Enchanted", and even though producers use a little auto-tune to spice up the vocal (which normally I would abhor), it works to perfection and the song builds in intensity and has a great melody. "Innocent" has a dark, eerie mood with some edge to it...something we haven't heard from Taylor before but suits her vocal tone perfectly. And on "Last Kiss", producers finally push the right buttons to help create a ballad that invokes goose bumps.
Overall, this is still a solid album...just not one I'm going to like from start to finish. I applaud her for writing all of the songs herself, but next time, I hope she gets a little help from her friends.
on October 16, 2011
Fearless, Taylor Swift's sophomore album, was a rarity. Selling millions upon millions of copies, it was also met with critical acclaim, earning her the Grammy for Album of the Year. It was well-deserved: Fearless stands as a diary of a young woman, a coming of age unlike any that has been penned within the realm of country music. Each song felt organic, growing and coming to fruition perfectly alongside the others. So what does an artist do when they've created the perfect portrayal of a teenage girl exiting her high school years? If you're Taylor Swift, you create a masterpiece of a woman coming to terms with the world around her.
Speak Now traps individual experiences perfectly in song form, synthesizing experiences in a way that can be applied to anyone that's ever lived, yet still be deeply personal. Nary a co-writer can be found on the album, which lends itself even greater to the experience. Speak Now works as well as Fearless did as a whole, but each track is so dense that the album is best reviewed in a track-by-track manner.
Mine: As the lead single, Mine does the perfect job of showcasing the development in Taylor's songwriting. While it seems like a contemporary rehash of Love Story, the lyrics are crafted more masterfully, lending to an altogether more tangible listening experience. Taylor's vocals have also improved, noted in the elongated 'mine' that stretches after the bridge.
Take-away lyric: 'You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter'
Sparks Fly: This song has spent the longest time in work, and several of the lyric couplets prove as much. The sound is turned into more of a pop-rock track rather than a country one, soaring on the opening guitar line and exploding on the bridge. This song has the most potential to be considered a 'throwback' to Taylor's earlier songwriting, feeling younger and more naive and innocent than anything else on the record.
Take-away lyric: 'The way you move is like a full-on rainstorm, and I'm a house of cards'
Back to December: A powerful ballad, the stage is set within the opening instrumentation, chilling the air and yet warming the soul with melancholy. The triplet structure of the chorus suits the conviction of Taylor's vocal delivery, granting the song an urgency that its tempo wouldn't betray. At nearly five minutes, Back to December marks a trend in lengthier song structure for Taylor.
Take-away lyric: 'I'd go back in time and change it, but I can't. So if the chain is on your door, I understand.'
Speak Now: The title track is coyly infectious and immediately arresting, painting a portrait of a wedding gone awry masterfully. The light as air production paired with the hitches in Taylor's vocal delivery reveal that there's more to singing than pure belting ability, and the rapid fire bridge barrels the song on like a freight train.
Take-away lyric: 'I am not the kind of girl who should be barging in on a white veil occasion, but you are not the kind of boy who should be marrying the wrong girl.'
Dear John: A power ballad if there ever was one, Dear John nearly hits seven minutes. In that time, it builds slowly with wobbling guitar and tortured words, so glacial that when the bridge erupts and Taylor wails with more skill than she was once ever capable of, the many layers have been snuck in. Every bit of the song feels like a work of art rather than a simple tune, and at its length, that's an incredibly accomplishment.
Take-away lyric: '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.'
Mean: The sole outright country song on the album, Mean is deceptively catchy and sly in its wit. Not feeling quite as massive as its predecessor, it instead falls back on fiddles and a strong hook, Taylor's delivery serving up a bite that she hasn't quite let out before.
Take-away lyric: 'Washed up and ranting about the same old bitter things; drunk and grumbling on about how I can't sing. But all you are is mean.'
The Story of Us: This song builds itself around sturdy guitars, driving forward the way a good power pop song does. This instead feels much less disposable, with hasty lyrics sung over a more hopeless atmosphere, anonymous profiles meandering about. Taylor's delivery is skilled in its desperation on several of the lyrics here, channeling vulnerability in a way that only someone who has experienced the circumstances first hand could recall.
Take-away lyric: 'I'd tell you I miss you, but I don't know how; I've never heard silence quite this loud.'
Never Grow Up: Twinkling in on a tragic rhythm, Never Grow Up feels intensely personal, yet universally relevant. Taylor softly recounts memories from second-person, cautioning youth with the experiences still lingering fresh in her mind. This song doesn't swell or build, but there's no need for it. Rather, it's a maelstrom of emotions that settle like debris after a hurricane.
Take-away lyric: 'Remember the footsteps, remember the words said, and your little brother's favorite songs. I just realized everything I have is someday gonna be gone.'
Enchanted: From the steady introduction to the swelling chorus that ignites into a stadium-filling anthem, Enchanted is the very core of the album. Taylor's delivery shifts from awestruck to desperate to impassioned, all within the span of nearly six minutes. The two-part chorus, the pleading bridge, and the feathery ending complete what is the masterpiece of Taylor's career.
Take-away lyric: 'The lingering question kept me up; two a.m. who do you love? I wonder 'til I'm wide awake.'
Better Than Revenge: Opening with a spoken command and followed by aggressive drums, Better Than Revenge is an all-claws battle from a woman scorned. It's the most rock-oriented song Taylor's ever done, and she takes control with the rage warranted. The tone doesn't shift throughout the song, relentless in its delivery until it all comes to a perfectly orchestrated, immediate conclusion.
Take-away lyric: 'Soon she's gonna find stealing other people's toys on the playground won't make you many friends.'
Innocent: Playing the roll of forgiver, Taylor delivers quiet verses while offering solace in a chorus that swells on its second take, the entire song feeling like thousands of candles in the wind on a cool fall night. The message is the centerpiece of the song, and it is driven home with expertise.
Take-away lyric: 'Wasn't it easier, run wild 'til you fell asleep, before the monsters caught up to you?'
Haunted: An orchestra of stringed instruments compliment the band on Haunted, a bleak song of desperation and anger. Taylor cries out in abandonment, infecting each lyric of the chorus with equal parts aggression and heartache. The bridge draws it all back until the final line, which ignites the embers into a wildfire within the cold forest that the song brings to mind.
Take-away lyric: 'You and I walk a fragile line; I have known it all this time, but I never thought I'd live to see it break.'
Last Kiss: In the vein of the stripped back Never Grow Up, this song is saturated in pain and regret rather than childhood memories, detailing a relationship that took a piece of Taylor with its conclusion. The inhalation of breath right before the final chorus, paired with the whispered, broken delivery give the song a lonely, tragically beautiful sound.
Take-away lyric: 'You can plan for a change in weather and time; I never planned on you changing your mind.'
Long Live: A powerful arena song that draws the album to a close, Long Live feels very much like a content ending to a world of memories, both good and bad. The guitars open up and the band comes alive as Taylor sings with all the passion she can muster, as though throwing a fist in the air in triumph. You have a right to, Taylor. You have created a true masterpiece.
on October 5, 2011
Before I start talking about the album, I should note that this review is for the double vinyl LP of Taylor Swift's "Speak Now". The vinyl is heavy weight (I wouldn't be surprised if this was 180 gram vinyl) and the packaging consists of a high quality gatefold jacket, covered with bright pictures and song lyrics. However, the sound of the music on the vinyl itself is very poor. The first song on side A, "Mine," sounds acceptable, however, not perfect. As the album wears on, the imperfections laying in the vinyl transfer become more and more apparent. Distorted and hissy, the songs play back with a little less life than on the CD or even MP3. The vinyl was released just a month after the actual CD came out, leading me (at least) to believe that the production on this was rushed, in an effort to cash in on the growing vinyl trend. While it feels good to have Taylor on vinyl, it is quite unsatisfying when it just sounds so bad. In summary, great package, poor sound quality. Let's just hope that Big Machine takes notice of these problems and will keep them out of the pressing of Taylor's next record, or even her previous records. I, for one, would love to own "Fearless" on vinyl.
The music itself is worth discussing. Taylor Swift, the pop-country princess that we all met on her self-titled debut back in 2006, has grown up. The list of boys that she has been involved with has gotten larger, and so has her musical ambition. While many complain of the lyrical themes that she chooses to include in her songs, many of the motifs here have been subdued. Taylor Swift has always been introspective. Flashes of other people's interaction with her inspire what she writes about, but it is still introspective. Yes, even with the first song, she brings up that 2(:30) AM concept that she writes about all the time, but at the same time, what if Springsteen stopped singing about cars and radios? Things like that establish the artist as to who they are and what they romanticize. Taylor wrote these songs, not those critics in the audience. Talk to her after you've co-written a song as successful as "You Belong with Me."
With "Speak Now," the 21 year-old allows herself to stretch out and lets the music grow along with it. There are more strings, more instrumentation, more elaborate song structures... One listen of the song "Haunted," and it becomes clear that Swift is taking risks and challenging her listeners. This isn't a bad thing, but it's definitely different. The simple pop jangle (as heard in past songs like "Our Song" and "Tell Me Why") is harder to find on this album. It's shrouded in Swift's stabs at musical maturity, which works more times than not, such as "Mean" and arguably the album's best song, "Enchanted." There are still flashes of youth, from mid-song giggles and a song ending with Swift declaring, "The end," but it is hard to decide, even after a whole year of listening to the album, whether or not this change in Taylor Swift is welcome. "Never Grow Up," one of the album's less engaging tracks, begins as a one-way conversation to a young child, and evolves into a full-fledged letter to Taylor herself, reminding herself to hold onto the things that made her feel young. However the songs on "Speak Now" suggest that her coming of age has been a bit uncomfortable, as she skyrocketed into fame and maintained a long string of very public relationships, and to an extent, her coming of age feels contrived. You feel that Taylor is stuck in between what she knows and what would WOW her audience. While that's definitely not a bad thing, this album serves as a fine testament to where she is in her career. Taylor really lets her voice shine on this album, something that sort of falls by the wayside on other releases. Her leap into maturity is a good first step, but she has yet to find the perfect balance being ambitious, while also being good at what she knows she's good at--genuine, simple pop songs about love. If this is her transitional album from the simple and familiar into the more complex and elaborate, then I cannot wait for what Taylor Swift will come up with next.
on September 12, 2011
I don't really listen to country, and never really thought much of Taylor Swift until I watched a music video of her on youtube. I decided to try this CD and I am completely obsessed. Her melodies are catchy and don't get boring. Her lyrics are smart, interesting, and not cheesy. Her music is fun and inspiring. She is truly talented and after years of hearing about her but not paying attention, I am finally on board! This CD is amazing and you'll love it whether you are 9 or 90.