What I’m Listening To: Taylor Swift – Speak Now

Written By Simon Chisholm

Taylor Swift’s third studio album ‘Speak Now’ was released in October 2010. In the few months since release, ‘Speak Now’ has been certified three times platinum in the USA and two times platinum in Australia, and peaked at number one on the Aria Charts in 2010, a monumental feat. This is an album that acts as an extension of Swift’s musical ability from Fearless (six times platinum in USA, five times platinum in Aus). An almost annoyingly infectious collection of tracks, Swift’s blend of country and pop genres will have you singing, dancing, crying and laughing in no time.

Breaking it down, this is essentially an album of love songs. We hear of current and past relationships, the good times and the bad, as well as just having a good time. The lyric content appeals to an adolescent audience. 

This album is way too ‘poppy’ for it’s own good. The songs are incredibly infectious.

Sonically, the sound is clean and crisp. Each of the sounds has a punch. Each track has a lot of presence, boasting fat mids. These qualities make these songs perfect for radio and making kids dance.

All of the tracks boast a smooth melodic contour, making the songs easy to sing along with and generally aesthetically pleasing. Each line reads like a narrative; that is beginning with a complication and then resolving in a perfect cadence, ending in a tonic chord. Taylor’s voice is flawless with no auto tune correction. One has to admire a pop artist who needs no computerised editing to sing well. It’s like a breath of fresh air in today’s pop world. There is not a lot of dynamic range in the voice. The vocal has been compressed and mixed so that quiet passages are matched to louder, more passionate passages. 

Taylor is very much enhanced by her backing band. The instrumentation is flawless, executed with precision.

Each track has a thick texture, a full sound. The instruments are layered and mixed in such a way that it is as if you are hit with a wall of sound; it’s hard. But there are cushions, and when you fall back its into a pool of love…oh Taylor…ahem.

It is no secret that Taylor Swift is a country artist. She has bridged the gap into pop music by creating songs that appeal to a more mainstream audience. This country music has been heavily ‘popified’. Some country elements present include: violin/fiddle providing lead passages, and vocal stylings; especially the accent and cadences (‘yoooouuuuu’ is ‘Sparks).

‘Mean’ is very country. We hear a banjo, mandolin, typical country rhythms, accent, cadences, an oom-pa bass line, slide steel, fiddle, bass and snare drums, and the subject matter: ‘Some day I’ll be living in a big ol’ citay’.

On the other end of the scale, ‘The Story Of Us’ is a no holds barred power pop track. Boasting dance drums, muted distorted guitar, guitar leads, tonic bass line, a powerful chorus, verses that tell a story and a pre-chorus that heightens anticipation. Overall, it’s a fun track.

Other notable tracks include; ‘Enchanted’, ‘Sparks Fly’, ‘Mean’, ‘The Story Of Us’, ‘Better Than Revenge’( for the ‘waaaaoooooo’ and associated reverb), and ‘Haunted (for the strings and piano track). ‘Speak Now’ also has the typical ballad. In this case it is the track entitled ‘Never Give Up’.

In ‘Enchanted’ the vocals flow like a soft wind and feature falsetto slurps. The line ‘This Love Is Golden’ opens the chorus and really set the whole tone of the song. Let’s not forget the fact that there are Timpani! Timpani! HA.

The theatrical elements are a nice touch, adding to the element of fun. In some songs you’ll hear spoken word, such as ‘Next chapter’, and ‘Now go and think about what you did!’ Also you can hear theatrics in her singing voice; excitement and melancholy. You hear shaking and quivering, for example the climax in ‘Better Than Revenge’. Looking at the album as a whole, the songs are ordered in such a way that listening from start to finish is just as dramatic, blending the up-beat songs and more melancholy tracks. Making the body of work a narrative with the rising and falling emotions.

I could say that this is my guilty pop pleasure, but there is no way anyone could escape the infectious melodies. The high energy, up-beat tracks are just so well constructed! The way the tracks are mixed, the full, thick texture are a pleasure to listen to.

The Extended Edition has 3 extra tracks, 5 new versions and a DVD feature. The extra tracks make for a long listen, but more is better in this case.

To clear up some of those numbers, in the USA platinum equals 1,000,000 (one million) copies shipped (at least 3 million copies shipped to get to triple platinum). In Australia platinum equals 70,000 (seventy thousand) shipments (at least 140,000 copies shipped). That is a lot of copies in circulation.

Also note that Taylor is credited with writing ALL of the tracks.

Released 2010 by Big Machine Records. Produced by Nathan Chapman and Taylor Swift.

What I’m Listening To: Taylor Swift – Speak Now

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