Taylor Swift - Speak Now
Kanye's favourite award winner returns with her third album. The Grammys bully may well have grabbed the headlines but save your sympathy 'cos Taylor Swift had the last laugh, her album Fearless selling about a billion copies to make it the best selling album in the US in 2009. Expect Speak Now to shift similarly. With the transition from cowgirl to rock chick complete, this unerringly commercial record stands ready to take on all-comers. Okay, so the country influence was hardly writ large but it's gradually been erased in favour of a bigger, ballsier pop-rock sound. Largely, despite some unavoidable reservations, Speak Now is sparky and likeable. For those for whom these things are important, the fact that the 21 year-old wrote all 14 songs might prove an extra selling point.
'Mine' and 'Sparks Fly' are saddled to the kind of chugga-chugga chart-friendly rock that makes chicks get all excited and push the Ka up to 28mph. Pretty fine. I can tap that clutch foot with the best of 'em. 'Back To December' is tremendous power chord balladeering, all regrets and apologies ("Turns out freedom ain't nothing but missing you") and tears at midnight. It's the best thing here but the sawing strings of 'Haunted' and the mischief-making title track (the closing scene of 'The Graduate' with Swift cast in the Dustin Hoffman part) are cool and wry and challenge it for top spot. It's weakest, as an album, when it panders to expectations. 'Never Grow Up' is the prettiest lullaby but I've changed a nappy, Taylor. Let's see you coo like that when it's your turn. 'Better Than Revenge' is as jet-propelled as you like but it's such a rip-off of Paramore's 'Misery Business', I hope when Hayley Williams hears it she's able to find some forgiveness in those Christian bones. There's a bit of a drop-off half way through where the general premise is just a bit too 'Baby you're the best'. 'Long Live', however, is a dynamic way to close the show, all small town dreams and 'You and me against the world' rabble-rousing.
All good? Nah, but a damn good effort. It's a bit like The Dixie Chicks' 'Taking the Long Way' with a PG certificate. Oh, and before we forget...vocally? Jeez. Stunning. Not just because she could break glass by drawing breath but because, even for one so young, Swift knows the value of restraint. Which means we get to hear the voice and not the effort. On the tracks where it's all close to the mic and down a couple of octaves, this is where you fall for Taylor Swift the singer as opposed to the artist, the songwriter, all that palaver. Maturity in young pop stars is so often a cruel ideal, something we foist upon them in a bid to stifle their youthful fire and turn them into little Sarah McLachlans. But Swift comes across as adult and smart and I like her for that. Here's hoping that in a decade or so when the bursting arenas and the yachts no longer thrill like they used to, she gives that nice Rick Rubin a call, fires her band, hunkers down around bare accompaniment and shows us what she's really made of.