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More Mature, Equally Charming Taylor-Made Country Music.
Speak Now - Taylor Swift
Member Name: SmoothCriminal
Speak Now - Taylor Swift
Advantages: Strong hooks, great lyrics, more mature sound and strong vocals.
Disadvantages: A couple of songs sound too formulaic.
Taylor Swift is without a doubt one of the biggest stars in the world. Her breezy melodies, instant choruses and bridging of the country and pop genres have helped her shift over 20 million albums worldwide. In the UK, she is not as enormous as in America, but has slowly built up a dedicated following. 'Speak Now' is the third studio album and marks her transition to womanhood. Not only are her songs themes slightly more mature, but Swift is the sole writer for every track on the collection - a testimony to her intense talent. What she has put together, is a very strong singer-songwriter album which has enough to appeal to fans of all genres and all ages.
The album kicks off with 'Mine' - an up-tempo, country-rock love song. "I was a flight risk, with a fear of falling" she sings in the first verse of a song that deals with the idea of running away from love. The song stays true to the country-tradition of telling a story in the lyrics, but undoubtedly, is one of the most pop tracks on the record. It has an addictively catchy chorus which is relentlessly cheerful, without ever being too saccharine. Swift's vocals are filled with emotion and really soar on the words: "You are the best thing, that's ever been mine". A fantastic way to commence the CD.
'Sparks Fly' is another feel-good track. I'm glad there are licks of violins and fiddles in the instrumentation, as I feel at times the song feels a little too much like the title track of her 'Fearless' album (in both lyrics and sound). The song has a cineamatic feel, like it should be the soundtrack to a big-budget Hollywood movie. "Drop everything now, meet me in the pouring rain/Kiss me on the sidewalk, take away the pain" she sings emotively in the chorus. I absolutely love the lyrics to the song and the melody. The way the violins interweave between the vocals and guitars really give the song a unique feel. I absolutely love everything about it.
'Back to December' is one of my favourite Taylor Swift songs in that it really stands out in terms of lyrical content. While most of her songs deal with heartbreak, the thrill of new love or unrequited crushes, this song is intensely apologetic, as she willingly labels herself as being in the wrong. Many argue it is about her relationship with Twilight star Taylor Lautner. "This is me swallowing my pride, standing in front of you saying I'm sorry for that night" she sings, with her voice croaking with emotion. The gentle melody and slight twang of steal guitars are really quite something. It's slow building in terms of tempo, and so the chorus never feels too gushing or clichéd. The song has a very melancholic feel to it, that stands out in her catalogue. A great track.
I like the comedic charm that the title track, 'Speak Now' has. The gentle acoustic production backs up the tale of a girl who crashes her ex's wedding, seeing the wife-to-be in a "gown that looks like a pastry" and daydreaming that she runs away with the groom. The lyrics are really clever, and I love the play on words with the title. "You need to hear me out, and they said 'speak now'" Taylor coyly explains. I love the light, breezy feel that the song has. It's definitely a summery track.
The most controversial song on the album is 'Dear John', a song which shows the danger of being as famous as someone as Swift, and also as being as honest of a songwriter as her. Many believe it's about her failed relationship with John Mayer, with lyrics such as "I'll look back and regret how I ignored when they said run as fast as you can" presumably referring to the media criticism of their relationship. It's one of the slowest tracks on the album and is more a grower, due to it's length (over 5 minutes). However, with repeated listens, you really begin to feel the intensity of the lyrical content and appreciate the emotion in her voice. The bluesy tone to the production definitely adds a different dimension to the album, sonically.
'Mean' is probably the most country sounding song on the record, while also being the most juvenile. Juvenile in the sense that it would fit in really well on her first album (which was released when she was 15). It deals with the idea of being bullied as a teenager, but growing up to be more successful and more happy than any of the people who tried to bring you down. It's a fun song, with the banjo fitting in really well with the feel of the song. "Someday, I'll be living in a great big city and all you're ever going to be is mean" she sings in the chorus - not her best lyrics, basic but I suppose they get the job done.
I love the up-tempo sound of 'The Story of Us', which is much-needed after the past two tracks. "I used to think one day we'd tell the story of us, how we met, and the sparks flew instantly" she sings in the opening line of the song, subtley referencing several of her own lyrics. It has the same feel that 'You Belong With Me' had, in the sense that you just can't help but sing along at the top of your lungs. It's great to have a break-up track that isn't necessarily sad to listen to, as Taylor sounds more frustrated than heartbroken ("you held your pride when you should have held me"). I love the guitar solo too - it's simply the perfect country-pop track.
'Never Grow Up' is perhaps the only dip in quality on the album. I like the gentle guitar melody, but the lyrics about being a child and then reaching adolescence just feel a bit too much like tried and tested territory from her first two albums. I feel like Taylor was playing it far too safe when she wrote this. It's not a bad track by any means, but it's neither exceptional nor memorable in terms of chorus or lyrics.
'Enchanted' is a just a great love song, which actually reminds me of her big hit 'Love Story. I'd actually say that the tone of Taylor's voice in the song is probably the best I've ever heard it. You can tell she's definitely growing as a vocalist, particularly given that when she was younger her voice could be a bit shrill. The gradual building tempo from a gentle ballad to a soaring light-rock song, is seemless. I love the euphoric "please, don't be in love with someone else" background vocals which weave into the production half way through the song. A fantastic, mood-lifting track.
"Now go stand in the corner and think about what you did!" Taylor scolds at the start of the song before a ferocious guitar line punctuates the song. 'Better than Revenge' is the ultimate song to listen to if you ever feel scorned by a lover. "She took his faster than you could say sabotage," Taylor hisses with anger. I love the pounding drums and the fury behind the lyrics - she definitely delivers the song with more sass than anything she's ever done before. I just love the guitar solo in the middle of the track, it definitely fits in with the tone of the song and the slightly harder production. Amazing from start to finish.
'Innocent' has an amazing steel guitar and reverberation in the percussion. I love the lyrics, mourning the loss of innocence through experience ('Wasn't it easier in your lunchbox days?' Taylor asks) but its her vocals which really stand out. Her upper register in the first verse is gorgeous, and definitely makes the song stand-out despite not being as instant as the other cuts on this set.
'Haunted' is easily the most dramatic songs that Taylor has ever written. Frantic strings, crashing percussion and a demented, adrenaline filled set of verses quickly establish the mania of someone who has been cruelly heartbroken. "Come on, come on, don't leave me like this" she cries on the chorus, her voice brimming with emotion and communicating anguish amazingly to the listener. What I really love about the song is the orchestral feel that the production has, that really isn't like anything else Taylor has produced. While I adore her and respect that she writes and produces all her own songs, sometimes, it does create a limited set of sounds in terms of instrumentation, so this is much-needed to spice up the record.
Without a doubt, 'Last Kiss' is a hidden gem. The atmospheric and completely stripped-back feel of the track instantly strike you as being different. Again, a lower, more mature tone is in her voice as she explores her lower vocal register. The gorgeous piano, simple beat and quiet guitars are perhaps make this the most beautiful song she's ever written. "I still remember that look on your face, that bit through the darkness at 1:58/You told me you loved me, so why did you go?". The lyrics are gorgeous and absolutely heartbreaking, but don't have the self-indulgence of her youth. It definitely makes the song twice as powerful, now she has the maturity to deal with both sides of a breakup. Without a doubt, one of the best songs that Taylor has ever written.
'Long Live' isn't the best track to end the album on. I love the lyrics, and the soaring chorus, but I feel that it's just a bit too formulaic. After twelve songs with similar production, the gentle guitars followed by a rousing chorus feels far too cookie-cutter for me. I definitely feel as if 'Last Kiss' would have been the perfect close for the CD.
Overall, this is a fantastic album. It has more of singer-songwriter vibe than a country-pop feel, possibly due to the fact it was only Taylor who wrote the album. It definitely gives it a broader appeal. With more mature lyrics and better vocals, you can tell she's definitely growing as an artist. The only thing that lets the album down is that some of the production feels a little samey and formulaic from track-to-track, so hopefully with next record she's experiment with a couple of producers and try and craft a new sound.
Without a doubt - buy this.
Summary: Amazing singer-songwriter album, that appeals to all ages and tastes.