A sparky and affecting record, moving Swift on at a stately and assured pace.
Matthew Horton 2010
They grow up so fast these days, don’t they? Having taken the lion’s share of the writing credits on 2008’s mammoth-selling Fearless, all of the songs on Taylor Swift’s new album are self-penned, betraying the sort of accomplishment that should keep her sitting pretty in the rock firmament for as long as she likes. Still only 20, that could be a mighty long time.
Although Nathan Chapman is still in the producer’s chair, there’s a perceptible, sonic move away from Nashville; the shift had clearly begun on Fearless, managing the crossover to the global mainstream with ease, but Speak Now plugs a sturdy marker in the pop-rock soil. On current single and terrific opening track Mine, the slide guitar is buried so deep in mix, it’s almost apologetic – or even a joke at the expense of Swift’s roots. But the twang in her voice is here to stay, somehow reinforcing the emotional heft of her homespun tales of teen love and loss.
Those preoccupations remain to the fore, yet a creeping maturity is plain. On serene ballad Dear John, Swift wonders, "Don’t you think 19’s too young to be played by your dark, twisted games?", and later, on the spidery Innocent, she sighs, "It’s okay, life is a tough crowd". This is a more bruised writer than the young Juliet on Love Story. Last Kiss is heartbreaking ("You told me you loved me so why did you go… away?"), a lump in the throat to a music box waltz. Nestled amid all the love and regret, however, are sunburst pop nuggets like Never Grow Up and Enchanted that would brighten any daytime radio playlist. And on closer Long Live, personal reflections take on a more triumphant tone, a late shot of versatility that underlines Swift’s narrative skill.
Talent to burn has its own pitfalls, of course. At 14 songs – and most comfortably over four minutes – Speak Now is too long, and when you’ve heard half a dozen perky laments you’ve heard, well, quite a lot. Swift is less convincing too when practising a snarly edge on Better Than Revenge or letting rip with her overwrought inner Bonnie Tyler on Haunted, but these only jar because quality elsewhere is so high. With some judicious – let’s have it then – tailoring, this is a sparky and affecting record, moving Swift on at a stately and assured pace.