Speak Now: The Revenge of Taylor Swift

Speak Now cover
(Source: Big Machine Records)

Last October 24 marked the four year anniversary of Taylor Swift, the first studio album of the Pennsylvania native that I call the Fearless One. Since then, she’s had only one studio album, the one that really defined her career: Fearless. Few could have had imagined the impact and success that album would have. Yet critics have always been skeptical of Taylor’s musical work. Fearless was the product of Taylor’s teenage years, and an impressive work for such a young artist. It was Taylor’s best work.

Until now.

There’s a point in every artist’s career, specially for a young female singer, when she comes into her own. When she becomes independent, assertive and most important, she begins a hands-on approach on her craft. I am not going to make comparisons to any other artists, because Taylor doesn’t need to push anybody down to stand out. The difference with the Outspoken One, which is the new moniker she receives on this blog, is that she did that already. She was already in control of her career. She was already creating her own music. What could she possibly do next?

Taylor just wrote about her life in the last two years. It was some eventful two years that include her first headlining tour, her first forays into TV and movies, a stupid incident that became an internet meme for a little too long, and life and romance under the spotlight of fame. However in those two years, she’s evolved as a songwriter, as a musician and as a person. The result is Speak Now.

(Credit: Joseph Anthony Baker)

The whole album has one singular theme. Say what you need to say to the person you need to say it at the right time. Lyrically, all the songs fall under this category. Musically, they are very diverse. Songs go from one range of the spectrum to the other. The whole feel of the album is unabashed even a bit wild. Taylor is not pulling any punches here. She’s going for your heart and at least on a couple of songs, she may even go for your throat too.

I’m going to go through some favorites here, and be warned – they are plenty.

Back To December was released early on iTunes but I’d gladly buy this gem again. This is a rare example of a song getting it all right. The melody and the lyrics complement each other. This song really deserves the backup orchestra and I’m glad it got that treatment. I want to say this is a sad song but I can’t. There’s something really enchanting about it that is almost uplifting. It is an apology that needed to be said to someone who deserved much more than what he got.

Dear John is lyrically, and also very much musically, a close relative to a country song. The melody is easy to get lost into. This is a love song in the real world. A beautiful song for a broken relationship with someone that has very real imperfections. There is no hope of a reconciliation here. A perfect ballad for an imperfect love. I don’t know how close the lyrics are made to resemble the events, but I have the feeling that John, whoever he is (and for the record, I do know) gets off light. I think the song is more beautiful than what the relationship was.

(Credit: Joseph Anthony Baker)

Haunted shows up for the first time and you wonder for a second if your iPod switched away from a Taylor Swift album. I want to try very hard not to say that the musical arrangement is haunting to avoid being corny but I can’t. Listen to Taylor’s voice here, as she hits the chorus she engages on some vocal exercise unlike none she’s ever done before. Yet it is her, and the song really takes you into what is the ghost of a relationship long gone, but which still seems to have left a few scars and perhaps some lessons to be learned. This is not a love she wants back. It’s a love long gone but in memory. I would say this is the most innovative of all the songs in the album.

Better Than Revenge is a musical and lyrical attack. You can sense both Taylor’s incensed intentions and the musical influence of Hayley Williams from Paramore in this song. I’ve heard comparisons of this song to Picture To Burn but without taking anything from Picture, I don’t think they resemble each other. This is the only song that Taylor dedicates explicitly to a female rival, a girl that took away her boyfriend and the message is pretty clear. The Outspoken One is not here trying to get him back, she’s out to get back at her. This song is about payback. It reminds me of a famous quote by Marilyn Monroe, “if you can’t handle me at my worst you don’t deserve me at my best.” And I have to say, this is Taylor with her claws out. Although some may see Hayley Williams here, and musically I can see that, I can’t help but hear a bit of Miranda Lambert’s sassy attitude in the vocals.

If you’ve read any of the articles or decoded the CD’s sleeve (yes, Taylor is known for hiding messages into her lyrics, she’s done this in every album) you know who Last Kiss is about. I’d like you to put them out of your mind and just listen to this song. It’s another ballad in which she says goodbye to a past love, but a sweet one. There’s no recrimination in this song. It’s a love song about a beautiful relationship in the past. The recipient of this song ends up almost like an old friend.

(Credit: Joseph Anthony Baker)

And then there’s Innocent. First of all, let’s forget who she’s singing to for a moment. Taylor has a knack to make her songs, inspired by private, one of a kind events, into relevant music you can listen to. There’s no reference here to what’s-his-name. This is someone accepting and forgiving someone older for disappointing her or letting her down. I can see a million situations in which I can identify with this song. This is grown up Taylor singing and the result is amazing. This is Taylor making herself vulnerable after being hurt.

Long Live is the last song in the album (the standard version, that is) which is fitting. This anthem seems to fit the same need that Change did for Fearless: it’s a final note of victory. I have to mention that the recipient here must be none other than The Agency, Taylor Swift’s band, and by extension her Fearless dance crew, road crew and her entire tour production. I can hear this song and be instantly transported to that moment in 2009 at the CMA Awards when Taylor wins Entertainer of the Year and brings on The Agency to the stage. It’s a hymn of victory that begs all her collaborators to never forget her. I can’t help but quote one lyric here: “Cause for one moment a band of thieves in ripped up jeans got to rule the world.” The song even becomes nostalgic.

Story Of Us is the very example of a contradiction oddity. The lyrics describe an awkward moment of running into an ex after a break up. The music says otherwise. It’s so catchy you almost feel like dancing to it. Expect to see this one coming up on pop radio soon – although the one I’d really love people to hear would be Haunted. Still, you rarely get a post-break up song that makes you want to sing along and dance. And yes, this tune has the same guy inspiring it than Dear John.

Update! I’ve decided to add a few more songs… yes, the album is that good.

(Credit: Joseph Anthony Baker)

Sparks Fly deserves praise as a fan favorite. This is the little song that could. It was sang only a couple of times at concerts of so long ago when Taylor was not even a headliner yet. There’s a little bit of a throwback to the past in song style but Taylor has updated the lyrics and it gets the studio treatment to stand the test of time and fits in the theme nicely.

Never Grow Up reminds me of the work of one of Taylor’s idols: The Dixie Chicks and Lullaby. However, this lullaby has a bit of a switch as it seems to start from a parent’s point of view to suddenly the singer becoming the protagonist facing the world as an adult and then back. Taylor has proven herself a grown up, mature and responsible with a childish, goofy side to herself. The result is this song can affect kids, parents, grown ups of all ages and big and little boys and girls alike.

Someone reminded me on Twitter that I had neglected to mention Enchanted. This one’s not about heartbreak, but hope. The song is about meeting someone for the first time and feeling about to fall in love. It’s like ten million firefli- ahem, it’s just that instant crush you develop on someone that might lead into something more.

I think that covers most the diversity found in the Outspoken One’s third offering – not to mention close to the entire album.

I didn’t know what to make of the diverse music styles until I remembered some of Taylor’s interviews regarding her condo. She defined her decorating style as eclectic. She prefers having mismatched chairs, mismatched door handles, a little of everything to create her own environment.

Her album could be described as eclectic as well. She’s been collecting all these memories and experiences and add them into a variety of musical works. The result is a extraordinary collection of musical offerings that show Taylor’s musical range and lyrical craft. You see traditional country with Mean. There’s a lot of arena rock in Long Live. There’s some alternative in Haunted. Taylor doesn’t shy from listening to any genre of music. For that her music becomes enriched to the point of having her own flavor.And if she can keep that up, you will never know what to expect from her except her best.

Because there’s nothing she does better… than music.

(Source: The Swift Agency)