Country-pop phenomenon Taylor Swift’s star has surely risen in these last couple of years, since the release of her multiplatinum sophomore album, Fearless. Her latest farce is reflective of that spike in fame, inspired by her entanglements, for better (Taylor Lautner) or worse (Kanye West), with Hollywood’s A-list. Main themes in Swift’s new album, Speak Now, may be more of the same to both her fans and haters—all about being in love, having your heart stomped on, taking out the anger at someone else—but her lyrics and melodies are lovelier and more entrancing than ever, even taking on a more diverse sound than her last best-selling and critically-acclaimed accomplishment.
Speak Now is highlighted by the sticky-sweet and up-tempo debut single, “Mine,” but many more gems outshine it. “Sparks Fly,” an even louder ode to love and a staple at Swift’s live concerts, makes a full-length studio appearance on this album and would give Swift even more commercial success if released as a radio single. “Back to December,” her song about her romance with Lautner (Her co-star in the film Valentine’s Day), is a beautiful, regretful ballad where Swift, for once, actually admits she was in the wrong. She laments, “I’d go back in time and change it, but I can’t / So if the chain is on your door, I understand.” On the contrary, she writes about meeting someone else for the first time in “Enchanted” and feeling those butterflies long into the night. It’s truly THE unrequited love song for anyone with a pulse.
Swift attempts to go rock-hard on “Better Than Revenge,” supposedly a rebuttal to actress Camilla Belle, who dated Joe Jonas shortly after his breakup with Swift. It’s an inflammatory tune, where Swift accuses Belle of being “better known for the things that she does on a mattress.” But for many, it’s guilty pleasure. The orchestral “Haunted” has the small makings of a power ballad and although the song is quite stunning, the instruments do overpower and painfully show Swift’s limited vocal prowess.
Perhaps two of the most controversial songs on the album are the ones dedicated to two older male musicians. The first is “Innocent,” which Swift debuted on the MTV Video Music Awards last month, a year after Kanye West infamously interrupted her acceptance speech for Female Video of the Year. Whether it’s a song of forgiveness or demeaning to the man, that’s up to the listener to interpret. The second comes in the form of a letter to a guy named John. Against a background of a mellow electric guitar melody and with the lyrics “Don’t you think I was too young to be messed with?,” it’s almost obvious that “Dear John” is addressed to the artist known as Mayer, who collaborated with Swift on his Battle Studies last year amidst rumors of a romantic relationship. It’s a track that personally falls flat for me, and I’ve tended to snooze past it as I did when those rumors were initially swirling around. But since the song pretty much confirms that something went down between the two, I think the world can now collectively “Ewwww.”
And because everyone can use a little more Swift in their lives, Target has released an exclusive deluxe edition containing video footage, acoustic versions of “Haunted” and “Back to December,” the pop remix of “Mine,” and three additional tracks that would’ve made the standard album even better: “Superman,” “Ours,” (One of the more straight-up “country” tracks) and “If This Was a Movie.”
As for my personal favorite track? It is one that I think is way underrated, called “Long Live.” A Yahoo! blogger who analyzed each song through the lyric booklet (Swift tends to hide cryptic messages in every song on all her album booklets) believes it may be dedicated to her band. I will choose to associate it with epic, poignant moments, like graduations. Or to celebrate the San Francisco Giants making it in to the World Series (“You traded your baseball cap for a crown / When they gave us our trophies and we held them up for our town / And the cynics were outraged, screaming ‘This is absurd’ / ‘Cause a band of thieves in ripped-up jeans got to rule the world” is totally a line for the underdogs).
Yes, Swift might still come across as the damsel in distress in Speak Now, but there’s always a pretty and poetic honesty to her music, and that certainly doesn’t falter in her latest effort. Vulnerable she may be, but in music, she’s only proven to be a stronger force than before.
OVERALL SCORE: 9/10