Monday, November 29, 2010

Speak Now: an Album Review

Those of you with tween-aged daughters certainly know that Taylor Swift released her third album, Speak Now, on 25 October.  (Actually, considering that the album sold a cool million copies in the first week, everyone except you Martian cave dwellers probably knew this even without little girls to remind you, like, every day.)

Let me say at the outset of this review that it is a measure of my respect for Swift’s talents that I even notice this at all.  In fact, I couldn’t even name a single album released in the last decade.  As I listen to the music while writing this review, I will fully concede that Swift’s latest work retains for her the position of America’s sweetheart.


I was disappointed.  Thematically, we’ve heard all these songs in Fearless.  Both albums divide easily into the I-love-my-boyfriend songs, the my-jerk-boyfriend-left-me songs, the I-left-my-jerk-boyfriend songs, and the my-boyfriend-to-be-is-dating-the-wrong-girl song.  Each album also has a triumph-over-adversity song:  “Change” in Fearless, “Long Live” in Speak Now.

This last was a comedown from its earlier counterpart. 

Long live the walls we crashed through
How the kingdom lights shined just for me and you
I was screaming long live all the magic we made
And bring on all the pretenders
One day we will be remembered

Nothing in the rest of the song provides any context, but the opening line is incoherent.  Why would we want the “walls that we crashed through” to “live long”?

There are a few bright spots.  A few of the songs explore old territory in a new way.  “Mine” was especially moving as she sings of a girl (in the first person) whose parents’ broken marriage colors her current relationship:

And I remember that fight, two-thirty AM
You said everything was slipping right out of our hands
I ran out, crying, and you followed me out into the street
Braced myself for the goodbye, cause that's all I've ever known
Then, you took me by surprise
You said, "I'll never leave you alone."

“Better than Revenge”, in its own category as a that-scheming-slut-stole-my-boyfriend-and-I’m-gonna-crush-her song, has this funny'-‘cause-it’s-true line:

Stealing other people's toys on the playground
Won't make you many friends
She should keep in mind,
She should keep in mind
There is nothing I do better than revenge, Ha

If Fearless left any gaps in its exploration of female narcissism, Speak Now plugs them.  But at some point, I really would like her to apply her talents to subjects that aren’t all about her.  So Taylor, if you really want to solidify your position as the premier songwriting talent of our generation . . . write us a new national anthem.  “The Star-spangled Banner” is so 1812.  


Anonymous said...

Heh, as someone who can't help but always hear the lyrics, it always bothered me that the scope of pop songs is just so narrow. They generally fall into three categories:

1. I wish to fornicate with you
2. I am no longer able to fornicate with you and that makes me sad.
3. Observe how high status I am, making me a person very much worth fornicating.

I've recently discovered that I enjoy country music; it may have its own cliches, but at least they're *different* cliches.

Anonymous said...

I actually have a rather long excerpt from one of my novels on Ceph's comment, giving forth some ideas as to why those themes are so common. Since it's almost certain to get cut from the book if I ever finish revising it, maybe I should make a post out of it.

Agree with Ceph on country music generally. That's one of the real strengths of Nashville. They write songs about life and not just infatuation, love, and heartbreak. It's the only real adult genre out there. That was what got me listening to it in the first place.

But the young ones, like Taylor Swift and LeeAnn Rhimes before her, and with the female artists more generally (a number of whom seem to have the goal of transitioning to pop), that's less frequently the case.

One irony of country is that for a "conservative" genre, the chicks spend a lot of time singing anthems to their own liberation, while men spend more time talking about being powerless (and sometimes about how Daddy didn't love him).

Justin said...

Country music can be very BETA, there is no doubt. But not all of it is, maybe not even the majority.

I would agree with you, Phi, her latest stuff is sounding stale.