We’re inching steadily toward the holiday season, which means that you’ll have to start avoiding your uncles, making frustrating travel plans and purchasing high-profile albums at your local music emporium. The holiday music season began last week with the highly-anticipated new album by Kings of Leon, and this week it gets kicked up a notch with the release of Taylor Swift’s excellent new album Speak Now. Swift’s third album is a bold step forward for the pop-country crossover star, as it retains much of the same polish and snap as her breakthrough album Fearless but makes moves into much more personal lyrical territory. It’s just enough of a gamble to seem bold and just familiar enough to keep current fans satisfied.
But what do the critics think? They are largely in agreement regarding the excellence of Speak Now. In her review in Entertainment Weekly, Leah Greenblatt called Speak Now’s songs “perfectly contained snow globes of romance and catharsis, whole cinematic narratives rendered in four-to six-minute miniatures.” She added, “Beneath Swift’s not-a-girl, not-yet-a-woman sweetness lurks a rigorous and very skillful technique; love may confound her, but the art of expert songcraft clearly doesn’t.”
Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times is also blown away by Swift’s evolution as a songwriter and arranger. “Swift is naming names during the media cycle accompanying this release — the guitarist John ’The Player’ Mayer is the cradle-robber in ’Dear John,’ Taylor Lautner the lost prince of ’Back to December’ — but the gossip surrounding the music is much less interesting than the maturation of her sound,” Powers wrote. Chris Willman concurred. “[Speak Now is] an enormous breakthrough in songwriting maturity, while hardly forsaking the childlike lack of pretense that made earlier efforts such guilt-free ear candy,” he wrote in The Hollywood Reporter.
Eric Danton of the Hartford Courant also wants people to wade through the tabloid fodder to get to the exquisite songs. “[Speak Now has] provided great fodder as devotees of celebrity gossip speculate on who, exactly, she’s singing about,” he wrote. “But with Swift’s endearing appeal as a singer and ever-growing skill as a songwriter, Speak Now makes for great listening, too.”
But the most illuminating review goes to Tris McCall, whose take in the Star-Ledger was especially interesting, as he compared Swift to Paramore singer (and Swift pal) Hayley Williams, literary critic Leslie Fielder and 50 Cent. “Swift could be that once-in-a-generation storyteller who was born to make innocence feel as formidable as a gangster rapper’s gat,” he wrote. “It’s not much of a reach to compare the Swift of Speak Now to an emcee in a beef, and the subjects of some of these songs must be reeling today. Call her a fine, if unimaginative, tunesmith. Call her a skilled weaver of narrative. But don’t call her a sweetheart. This princess rules with an iron scepter, and she’s kicking butt and taking names.”
What do you think of Taylor Swift’s new album Speak Now? Let us know in the comments!