Sound — 8
Taylor Swift has carved out a cozy niche amongst the lovesick young (and probably more than a few adults out there) on her first two albums, and it's precisely that approach that she once again takes on the latest release Speak Now. Say what you will about her watered-down, innocence-driven pop/country, Swift handles it capably. There's certainly a heavy helping of the lovesick puppy vibe that vacates the 14 tracks (which were apparently all completely composed by Swift), and it may come across as nave and slightly annoying to the jaded ear. However, for the singer/songwriter's core youthful audience, that's precisely what sold them on her in the first place.
The opening track Mine follows in the tradition of past titles like You Belong With Me because of its rich storytelling and the Romeo-and-Juliet aspect. You could definitely track down a bit of a formula with Swift's writing (namely a descriptive story dealing with love in the verse; followed by the big emotional chorus), and it works for her. For someone so young, Swift does have a knack for writing endearing and clever lyrics, although the music for the most part doesn't stray too far from the low-key verse and built-up chorus.
One does have to give Swift credit for pulling out some interesting musical styles this time around. The main standout is Mean, which leans more toward bluegrass with its heavy use of the banjo. Innocent is your standard ballad, but it takes on a much more ethereal feel to it, particularly with the use of background vocals that are most likely tweaked by some haunting studio effect. Never Grow Up feels as much like a lullaby as a straightforward pop song, and that track also takes a slight break from the topic of heartache.
Will Taylor Swift to appeal to the death metal crowd? Well, one never knows, but she will be likely a little too immaculate to be considered interesting to that group. She's a fairly solid songwriter if you do enjoy pop music, but you also have to be on board for a whole bunch of talk about love including one track that may or may not (you be the judge) be an ode to her brief and unfortunate relationship with a much older John Mayer.
Lyrics — 8
If you can get past the squeaky clean topics, it's easy to realize that Swift's strong point is her ability to write engaging lyrics. One of her most enjoyable selections involves her desire to stop the wedding of a former love. That's actually a theme that a lot of us could relate to at one time or another. It's true that the bulk of the tracks revolve around love-gone-wrong, star-crossed lovers, or jealousy, but those have been the main topics in music for centuries. In the end, her lyrics aren't quite compelling, but they still will draw you in and get your attention.
Overall Impression — 8
The deluxe edition with which we were provided also includes three additional tracks, two acoustic versions, a remix, and alternate versions of Mine, "Back to December", and "The Story of Us. While it's always fascinating to see how different acoustic versions can be, for these particular selections (which were mellow anyway), there isn't a huge difference. On the whole Speak Now is an enjoyable listen, but you have to be open-minded to pop, country, and a time when things were just a little simpler if love ever was in life.