Taylor Swift, Fearless

Taylor Swift
Fearless

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Teenage juggernaut Taylor Swift has excelled by confessing the passionate, often-painful contents of her adolescent life.  As a result, she’s redefining Nashville’s standard of procedures in terms of her musical direction and her unparalleled connection with country music’s growing diversity of demographics.  Her single-minded mission continues with the release of her sophomore set, Fearless, an album that lands well beyond the bounds of country music, but succeeds any unleashing a slew of catchy tunes that will latch onto radio playlists for the foreseeable future.

The groundwork was laid by a self-titled first album that attracted a devoted following through its honest stories of young love and heartache, but Swift’s music was merely part of the package, with plenty of supplemental tools launching her into national awareness. Clever marketing (such as MySpace) and creative media opportunities (like MTV’s Total Request Live) concocted by the Swift camp provided a platform for her to sing her heart out about life from a pubescent perspective.

Their campaign, to establish a distinct image to fit with the Taylor-made melodies saturating the airwaves, catapulted her to the sales stratosphere. In these drab economic times, Swift’s been pulling away from the field, with her debut disc becoming the highest-selling country album of 2008.  It was a notable achievement, given that Taylor Swift was released in October 2006.  Swift’s commercial stats have been peerless, and though she’s capable of the honesty and heart that marks great country music, Fearless shows that her (sometimes raw) creative skills lie closer to pop music on the genre spectrum.

The can’t-miss formula of beauty, brains and beguiling songs she’s corralled is sure to succeed commercially despite criticisms of her craft.  Still, as with Swift’s first album, Fearless is likely to elicit very mixed reactions. Her limitations as a singer will be widely acknowledged, and her music will be questioned for rarely advancing beyond typical teenage love tragedies.  But signs of improvement are subtle, yet encouraging on a sophomore set that serves catchy pop with a dash of bouncing banjo for good measure.

On Fearless, Swift proposes that romantic ventures often reap little reward. Lead single, the Romeo and Juliet-inspired tune, “Love Story,” suggests simple romantic relationships are indeed fairy tales.”White Horse,” the spare, brooding number that premiered on Grey’s Anatomy, gives a glimpse into a world where the story takes a few dark twists and turns. In a similar vein, “You’re Not Sorry” is a string-laden assault on an unworthy suitor.  The simple, direct language Swift (who wrote or co-wrote all thirteen tracks) favors is a real representation of her human faults and flaws, creating empathy for an imperfect protagonist.

A trio of moments here are statements of self-belief born out of her burgeoning wisdom, and they’re conveniently highlighted by infectious, ready-for-radio choruses, in particular the percussion-fueled “You Belong to Me.”  The interrogating “Tell Me Why” and the indignant “Forever & Always” follow suit with fierce messages, fetching melodies and a cascade of drums. In these tales, the beauty confronts the beast in a manner that would make any cheating young lad fearful of her firepower, and Swift flaunts her can’t-help-myself candor with pride.  But brief respites from the drama show hints of hope that love will indeed conquer doubts and complete her dreams, with both “Hey, Stephen” (note the neat Hammond B-3 organ nestled in the background) and the title track embracing the rush of first love with no trace of trepidation.

A few missteps arise due to Swift’s unpolished talent. Her voice remains underdeveloped here, and the lyrical conceits here contain thematic cliches. Swift stumbles in the role of a sage veteran on “Fifteen,” where she dispenses advice to a floundering freshman girl navigating the halls of high school for the first time. And “The Best Day,” with its coffeehouse vibe and saccharine storyline is excessive even for the earnest Swift.  The John Rich co-write “The Way I Loved You,” also falters badly due to Swift’s exaggerated warbling, and the theatrical production seems mismatched with the plotline of teenage relationship regret. But the basics of songwriting, especially a deluge of hooks, are proof of Swift’s talent despite her lack of vocal range and tendency towards banal lyrical schemes.

Swift, a musical, modern-day Holly Golightly, is superior at distilling her awkward teenage emotions into three-minute sing-alongs. But since her music rarely echoes their own experiences, country music’s adult population is (somewhat understandably) lukewarm towards her, and traditionalists in particular worry that newcomers to the genre are driving the final nail into traditional country’s coffin. Those fears likely won’t be allayed with this release, an album that sounds more like moody power pop than anything created on Music Row.

But to hold Swift’s decidedly contemporary take on country music against her because her most natural musical gifts are mainstream is unfair.  And though not a necessity in a country fan’s catalog, Fearless is a tentative, but ultimately promising step into pop superstardom for a young woman boldly sharing her diary with an eagerly anticipating worldwide audience.

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23 Comments

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23 Responses to Taylor Swift, Fearless

  1. CarsonNo Gravatar

    I agree this album is a lot more poppier than the last album.

    I’m a Taylor Swift buff, I’m not sure what it is, but I love her, so I of course love this CD.

    What songs do you guys think will become singles?

    I’m thinking “Hey Stephen” and “Fifteen”, even though the latter of the two is kind of weak. The title track “Fearless” I think is too poppy for country radio, and sounds more like a pop radio mix.

  2. vpNo Gravatar

    I really enjoyed your review, and pretty much agree with all of it, it is nice to see that she is growing cause she is not quit there with her vocals yet, not sure if she will, but she does have the great talent of writing, if only she could get over all the teenage drama that would be great. I guess whe 80% of your fans are under 17 that works out great.

    I do hope to see some more mature stuff from her in the future, cause she does have the talent.

    Myself I don’t consider her to have sold the most albums in 08′ because she did rerelease it twice adding bonus tracks each time. I fell that it cheats your fans out of money, wanting them to buy the same cd with a couple added songs 3 times over. She should have kept the additions for another album.

  3. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Awesome review, of course. I especially love “cheating young lad”!

  4. Chris D.No Gravatar

    I’m very surprised by how much I really like this album. I think the entertainment value counterbalances Swift’s lack of vocal ability. It may also be the fact that I’m still pretty young. xD

    My favorites?

    “Hey Stephen”, “Breathe”, “You’re Not Sorry”, “Love Story”, and “White Horse”.

  5. Mike M.No Gravatar

    I have to say that I was a fan of Swift’s first album, but this feels like a step backwards. It’s not bad, but I feel like she’s catering to the 9-17 year old girls base way too much. She definately has talent, well writing talent, but her best side doesn’t show here. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy this album a little and if Amazon still has it for $3.99, it’s definately a worth purchase. I just hope her third effort shows the mature songwriting that I know she’s capable of.

  6. CMWNo Gravatar

    Interesting review of an album I don’t care about at all, Blake. That’s saying something.

  7. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar

    The approval is appreciated.

  8. CMWNo Gravatar

    PS Now that you’ve made 7 times more posts than either of the other writers added in August, how about being a little more prolific? ;)

  9. vpNo Gravatar

    Great review, I think it will sell alot out of the gate but will slow from there. I don’t think it is an album of any substance. It seems to be all the same stories from the first told over and over just a different melody, and different words, but all saying the same thing if you get me. I would really like to see her write some more mature stuff in the future the talent is there. Vocally thought she still hasn’t arrived, I had the convo with my sister, and she sounds great on soft slow songs where she doesn’t have to reach ie Tim Mcgraw even Love Story which I hate, but when she tries to go big or hit the money note it just isn’t there and I’m not sure if it will ever.

  10. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    This is why we all hate Blake so much! Not only is the quantity there, so is the quality.

  11. J.R. JourneyNo Gravatar

    So, I just listened to this album all the way through. And I gotta say, it wasn’t nearly as painful as I thougth it would be. Granted, it won’t be in any kind of heavy rotation for me – these songs just aren’t my cup of tea. But overall, I’d say it is a pretty solid album. And Swift obviously shows growth as a songwriter and vocalist on some tracks. While at times, she reverts back to the very things I loathed about her debut, but those very things are likely what propelled it to multi-platinum status.

    ‘Hey Stephen’ is very reminiscent of K.T. Oslin’s ‘Hey Bobby’ in both lyric structre and sound. I kinda like it.

    ‘White Horse’ seems like it could be a direct sequel to ‘Love Story’. Likewise, ‘Tell Me Why’ ‘You’re Not Sorry’, and ‘Forever and Always’ are typical Taylor Swift fare that will satisfy her demographic beautifully.

    Songs like ‘You Belong With Me’, ‘The Way I Loved You’, and ‘Fifteen’ all tell the stories of high school life, romance, drama; the whole package. But, they do it well. I guess somebody has to tell the stories of these teens. ‘The Best Day’ is pretty much a re-write of George Strait’s ‘The Best Day of My Life’, and it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

    “Breathe’ is a stand-out track to me. The vocal is not overblown and she conveys real emotion in her voice. Also, it takes on a maturity to a break-up that is a new concept for Swift as she sings “Never wanted this, never wanna see you hurt, Every little bump in the road I tried to swerve, But people are people, And sometimes it doesn’t work out”. Definitely my favorite track on the album.

    So while I don’t think Swift has captured just the right groove yet, she shows enough growth on this release to justify thinking she could actually be around for a while, and make the oft-painful transistion from child star to adult star.

  12. LynnNo Gravatar

    I was already feeling guilty, but now I’m feeling incredibly guilty. ;) I’ve already bowed down to Blake.

  13. CarsonNo Gravatar

    I think “Tell Me Why” and “White Horse” are the most country songs on the CD, however, I think they’d be stupid not to release “Hey Stephen” as every single review I’ve read has commented on that song, in at least some way, little or big, in a flattering form.

  14. Pingback: Taylor Swift - "White Horse" - Listen to Taylor's New Single | The Georgia Jukebox

  15. bobbyNo Gravatar

    after finally listening to this cd, i have four main thoughts on it:
    1. i think her songwriting matured a lot, and although on some of the songs her potential kind of stayed beneath the surface, i though most of them were pretty well written, with “White Horse” being my favorite lyrically
    2. her sincerity is very refreshing, more so on this album than the last and i like that her songs do well on the radio because they’re real and people can relate to them, rather than then because they were specifically made to please radio listeners
    3. although i think her vocals were a bit better on this album, i think it was hard to notice because of all the overproduction that brought out the weaknesses rather than over looking them
    4. i thought a lot of the songs ran together because of the similarities in the themes, for example: moving on even though it’s hard, and insincere sorries, etc. if a couple songs were taken out i think it would improve the overall cd.

  16. Brandy TNo Gravatar

    I love love love her new album and so does everyone else.. seeing how it has been number 1 for almost 2 months now =)

    She is a wonderful song writter. I can’t wait to see what she does next. She’s only 19 so I can oly imagine what she will be like 5 to 10 years from now

    Older people might as well get use to her cause she isnt going anywhere anytime soon.. so pull the sticks out of your butts and loosin up.

  17. Leeann WardNo Gravatar

    Samir Donaldson, Ivan Webb, Garrison Suarez
    Paul Hunter:

    There have been posts regarding Taylor Swift under all of the above names throughout the day, with the same IP address, including one that stated that “taylor Swift is pretty” on a Vince Gill review. Please post under one name and stay on the topic of the review on which you are posting. Otherwise, we will have to delete your comments in the future.

  18. PatrickNo Gravatar

    My problem with her lyrics is how corny they are :\ I mean “I’m not a princess, this isn’t a fairy tale.” I mean come on…

  19. JessNo Gravatar

    What makes her melodies “pop” melodies? And don’t the songs on this album have banjos and other country instruments? What makes it pop?

  20. MandyNo Gravatar

    HA! SHE WON ALBUM OF THE YEAR AT THE GRAMMYS. 3 OUT OF 5, REALLY? SHE PROVED EVERYONE THAT SHE HAS TALENT!

  21. Tom PNo Gravatar

    Mandy, how does winning a Grammy prove talent? You could name dozens of artists over the decade that have won Grammys but not remembered very well when their time is up. I do believe she has some talent but I believe its more of a marketing talent than musical.

  22. klarkNo Gravatar

    I beg to differ sir.
    She can write songs but it is an all known fact that she has a very limited vocal ability. Her album “Speak Now” highlighted what she could be given she should do what she wants. It is not easy to write an album all by yourself, be also a co-producer and to be a critical and commercial darling after its release. You can say that part of her success was due to savvy marketing campaign but it cannot be denied that her talent (whether it be songwriting or her ‘singing’) brought her there.

    This is not the case with “Red”.

    PS: And rabid fans really really bother me.

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