CU Roundtable Review: Taylor Swift, “Ours”

by

December 10, 2011

Written by Taylor Swift

Listen:  Ours

Ben Foster:

With the sixth single from Speak Now (which only appears on the deluxe edition), Swift goes for a raw understated style in both production and vocal, and it suits her quite well.  Though regularly criticized for weak vocals, particularly in a live setting, “Ours” is an instance in which Swift is able to work with her vocal imperfections instead of against them.  She turns in a disarmingly compelling performance, such that even the technical imperfections serve to enhance the emotional qualities of the song, as opposed to being a serious liability as in times past.  The treatment allows Swift’s natural authenticity and sincerity instead to be the focus of attention.

By telling a story through easily accessible word pictures – How many of us can’t picture the vacant stares of strangers in an elevator? – the song comes across as an effective musical expression of the comfort of having something special that no one can take away.  In addition, the tastefully restrained production and vocal will make it a pleasant mood-breaker on typically bombastic radio playlists.  For Swift, “Ours” is the latest in a series of very good singles, which only heightens my interest in what her future efforts will bring.

Grade:  B+

Kevin John Coyne:

Sometimes when Taylor Swift is being praised as a great songwriter, it’s a back-handed compliment, as if it’s only being mentioned in comparison to her ability as a singer.  But “Ours” is further evidence that she’s a great songwriter, no qualifiers required.

“People throw rocks at things that shine” is just a great line.  A “Hey, let me go back five seconds and make sure I heard that” great line.

My big thing with Swift has always been that I’m too old to be her target audience, and her vocals aren’t interesting enough to sustain my attention.  But the gap is narrowing, and as she’s getting older, her observations are seeming more astute.

“Ours” is charming, breezy, and sustains my attention.  I don’t see myself hitting repeat in the way that I did with “Mean”, but I’m certainly enjoying it enough to revisit it again.  That’s about as high as my praise gets for country music in 2011.

Grade:  B+

Noah Eaton:

This past March, Taylor Swift added her refreshing perspective to a long line of recent radio songs concerning the issue of bullying and peer-pressure in consequence of embracing ones individuality with “Mean.”

If that was her “Firework”, this is her “Hey There Delilah”.

“Ours”, the fifth single from “Speak Now” (and the first from the Deluxe Edition) showcases a notably more understated production; a slight departure from the defensive posturings and romantic exigency that have peppered most of her back catalog to date.

Much like the aforementioned and unabashedly sincere 2007 Plain White T’s smash, where frontman Tom Higgenson opines in the bridge that their friends would all make fun of them if they attempted to walk across the country to rendezvous, but would just laugh along with them because “none of them have felt this way”…….Swift sheds light on the silence of strangers in the opening verse of “Ours” and asserts, if her love interest was here, they’d “laugh about their vacant stares.”

However, unlike “Hey There Delilah”, which concerns a star-crossed romance spanning a thousand miles and how absence makes the protagonist’s heart grow fonder, “Ours” illustrates a relationship separated not by mile markers, but by life’s obligations and peer pressure. Nowhere is this made more explicit than in the song’s chorus, which features the stand-out interjection: “People throw rocks at things that shine” and that, in effect, life makes love look hard.

Considering how comparatively stripped-down the production of this track is compared to previous outings of hers, it’s curious to see Swift maintaining her defiant pose here and pointing her finger out at naysayers. As cohesive and believable as the lyrics are here, the chorus can’t help but feel underdeveloped and tame, especially since Swift declares that the stakes are high and the water’s rough. The way she mouths those lines with relative ease would lead you to believe it’s actually low tide as she speaks.

Despite the somewhat rushed and dispassionate chorus, Swift maintains here a penchant for construction and conviction that made her previous singles “Sparks Fly” and “Mean” stand-outs as well. There is a keen continuity that ties each of its parts together into one attractive package, with the opening verse implying her time is theirs, before clocking in her hours by the second chorus and exclaiming her love interest is now hers, and finally tying up the loose ends with an effective bridge that reassures him, as she inevitably places her nose to the grindstone again and is pummeled by a barrage of additional peer pressure, that her faith for him is exemplified with this here song.

With the lugubrious winter overcast enshrouding most of the nation presently, “Ours” is certain to resonate with countless anxious lovebirds yearning for reassurance and clarity, and should prove to produce yet another Country radio hit to add to her burgeoning collection. What remains to be seen is whether this can also replicate the success of “Hey There Delilah” on Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 radio, and deliver her first decisive crossover hit this album cycle……….or if it’ll be subjected to yet another round of vacant stares.

We’ll just have to let the jury decide that, shall we?

Grade:  B+

Jonathan Keefe:

From the first lines of “Ours,” Swift dismisses the points-of-view of anyone outside the limited, insular sphere of her immediate romantic concerns. Thus, when she spends the rest of the song trying to mine dramatic tension from everyone else’s disapproval – which, but for the line about, “Any snide remarks from my father about your tattoos will be ignored,” are far more vague and impersonal than in her best songs – it rings completely hollow. The mixed metaphors and disjointed, non-sequitur statements in the chorus just don’t make me believe that she has any reason to be so defensive about the relationship, and Swift’s believability is one of her best attributes as a artist. With something like “Enchanted” still waiting on Speak Now, “Ours” should’ve remained a for-diehards-only bonus track.

Grade:  C-

Tara Seetharam:

It may not be as evocative as “Sparks Fly” or as fresh as “Mean,” but “Ours” is a solid, graceful way to close out Speak Now. The beauty – or perhaps irony – of Swift’s catalogue is that despite her flawed performances, there isn’t anyone who could sing her material as effectively as she does.  She builds herself into the fabric of “Ours,” literally (“I’ll…give you faith with this song”), emotionally (the subtle laughs) and lyrically (“lip gloss smiles” is signature Swift).

That’s the thing – told by a lesser artist, this story would be obnoxious; told by Swift, it’s deliciously dramatic. She nails the blindly passionate, narrow-minded youthful perspective but does it so charmingly that you forget to be annoyed. And while it’s hard to tell if the drama is warranted, there’s no doubt “people throw rocks at things that shine” is one of the best lines of 2011, as truthful as it is cleverly written.

Grade:  B

Leeann Ward:

Everyone has already said it, but”Ours” is impressively understated in both Taylor Swift’s vocal deliveryand its folky production. The instruments don’t compete with each other and, even better, Swift doesn’t compete with the instruments.  Instead, there is no point in the song where her voice is grating, rather, it is actually quite pleasant  and even softly nuanced throughout the song.

Furthermore,we hear her continue to grow as a songwriter. While it’s still not perfect,there are flashes of near brilliance in lyrics such as “People throw rocks at things that shine” and the vivid depiction of something as typicallymundane as awkward moments in an elevator that make her prefer to take thestairs in the end.

It hasn’t been lip service up to this point from me when I’ve praised Swift’s ability to capture young people’s feelings, even if they are such that I can’t personally relate, but I agree with the others who feel that this song provides solid hope for the growth that so many people have believed she would make as she got older and more mature herself.

The mix of the gentle and satisfying production (save the minor distraction of the moody, plinky piano), a pleasant melody and her best vocals makes for Swift’s strongest song to date.

Grade: B+

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  1. TomNo Gravatar says:

    …being way out of the age group, whose feelings and ways of thinking taylor swift depicts in her songs, i still enjoy her music in all its flawed glory. then again, i’m not a cowboy and love songs about rodeos and its protagonists. i’m not pierced or tattooed in silly places, but can find some hit and miss beauty in aldeans work.

    on the whole, nothing new here, “ours” is typical taylor swift, light and breezy thoughts about the most important topic in music next to beer and flip-flops on southern shores.

  2. JakeNo Gravatar says:

    I really enjoy the line “people throw rocks at things that shine” but other than that I can’t really enjoy the song. It’s kind of a been there, done that feel. I have slowly come to like Swift over the years and really do think she will be apart of country music for a good long while but I think I’d enjoy her (actually country radio) more if there would be some more songs that weren’t just about a girl swooning over a boy or vice versa. Don’t get me wrong, there are good songs about that; but I’ve just always enjoyed songs (if they are about romance or finding someone) where the narrator also a little more to say (‘Whatever You Say’, ‘Stand Beside Me’, ‘Settlin’,’Take Me As I Am” etc.). I kinda wished “Dear John” could have been released but I’d say “Ours” is a good choice for a last single since I can’t really see any other single choices. But I think I’ll begin enjoying Swift’s music more when more songs like “Mean” are produced.

  3. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    As much as I enjoy “Ours,” I do have to agree that “Dear John” would have been an even stronger single choice.

  4. BillyNo Gravatar says:

    “Dear John” is my favorite song in Taylor’s catalog, and that’s saying quite a bit. Taylor (and John, for that matter) are two of my favorite artists. However, I can’t imagine that song on radio. It would have to be dramatically cut, and cutting any lyrics out of “Dear John” would be horrible. I do want her to perform it at a high profile event — and nail it.

    However, this is the single review for “Ours.” I’ve always thought that “Ours” was a cute song, nothing more or less. It never tries to be anything else, either. I’ll echo the other comments on the line about throwing rocks. That line has always stuck out to me.

    Also, the video for this song is humorous and pretty sweet as well.

  5. KarlyNo Gravatar says:

    I like the simplicity of the lyrics and production here, but the execution of the lyrics does nothing for me. I think Taylor has an uncanny ability to own her lyrics, but this isn’t one of those times for me. Her voice just seems lifeless and limp here. I don’t see how it’s much different from her usual material in terms of lyrical content & I don’t particularly find the lyrics interesting, even though I think the chorus.

    It seems Big Machine will have to go back to releasing singles from the standard edition after “Ours” peaks, because Taylor has said she won’t release her next album for another year or so. I also think there were much stronger songs on “Speak Now” and I think the other bonus tracks are also stronger than “Ours.”

    “If This Were A Movie” really sticks out as the nixed opportunity to me. “Enchanted” or “Never Grow Up” would’ve made better singles, in my opinion. I think the issue is many of the leftovers just aren’t country, which says a lot because we’re talking about Taylor Swift.

    I do wonder if she’ll try to get in the good graces of country music fans again with the next album; TSOU failed at pop radio, even though it should’ve been a huge hit based on the extremely infectious production and sugary lyrics. It seems telling that Taylor seems to have fallen out of favor with pop radio, yet most country music fans seem to consider her to be much more pop influenced than country.

  6. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar says:

    This one is not bad – the song is good and the vocal is well within her range and she isn’t trying to compete with the band, so her voice can work effectively. I’d giv ethis a B

  7. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    The beauty – or perhaps irony – of Swift’s catalogue is that despite her flawed performances, there isn’t anyone who could sing her material as effectively as she does. She builds herself into the fabric of “Ours,” literally (“I’ll…give you faith with this song”), emotionally (the subtle laughs) and lyrically (“lip gloss smiles” is signature Swift).

    I definitely agree, and I think that’s a really good way of summing it up. I’ve at times tried to imagine Taylor as a songwriter whose songs were performed by other artists, but for all of Taylor’s vocal limitations, I still don’t think I would get as much out of Taylor’s songs if they were sung by anyone but Taylor. It’s impressive how she puts so much of herself into her performances.

  8. Erik NorthNo Gravatar says:

    I think the ones who might be best qualified to cover Taylor’s songs are the ones who are of Taylor’s age or younger, because right at this moment in time that’s where the focus of her songs has been. If she is able to mature and continue to put extra care into her songs and her voice, she will eventually overcome the stigma that so many have put over her (IMHO).

  9. MotownMikeNo Gravatar says:

    Will Taylor ever be capable of putting out an actual country ballad like Carrie was able to do with “I Told You So”? I’d love to hear her try just once!

  10. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    Yes, Carrie’s cover of one of Randy Travis’ least traditional-sounding songs certainly puts her miles ahead of Taylor in cred.

    They’re talented in totally different ways. Can’t we end this weird fan war and just all hate Justin Moore together?

  11. wmcmNo Gravatar says:

    One of the things that makes Speak Now weaker than Taylor’s previous albums is Taylor’s increased reliance on pretty phrases to cover up a lack of coherent story telling, and Ours is another example of that. The “people throw rocks at things that shine” comes out of nowhere after the 1st verse. It doesn’t even make sense because the 1st verse is about how dull people at her job are but suddenly somebody’s attacking their relationship? It started making a little more sense when she started talking about possible skeletons in his closet (how convenient that only he has the skeletons though, and how her only hurdle is apparently a dad who disapproves).

    I 1st noticed this problem with Taylor’s writing back when she released Love Story but the rest of the singles were more solidly written. But if you really look at the lyrics for several Speak Now songs, they rely on people overlooking storytelling lapses, mixed metaphors (Dear John) or the lyrics outright contradict themselves. Like “you made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” is a great, ear catching phrase but it came out of nowhere during Mine and she never explained it.

    Mean outright contradicts itself when Taylor gets mean herself, not to mention shifting the song from an anti-bullying message to a putdown of a critic sinks Taylor’s best produced, catchiest song ever. It’s so frustrating that she puts out her 1st legitimately country song in forever and it’s so smug and hypocritical. Speaking of Mean, I think Ours basically shows that same attitude to criticism: how any negativity is just people hating. Sorry but that makes me respect Taylor a little less. And, it’s just encouraging that us against them mentality among her fans, which I think Taylor knows.

    It’s too bad Motown Mike had to bring somebody else’s name into it but I think there’s a valid point underneath it. I think pop music would be in better shape if Taylor were the dominant voice on that format or one of them. Last Kiss and Enchanted should be big pop hits. But country? I just don’t hear anything from Taylor that makes me think she cares about country music. For the record I have the same suspicion of Lady Antebellum so it’s not like Taylor’s alone. I just like country acts better if I think they sincerely care about my favorite genre of music and there’s others in the under 30 crowd at country who’ve done a way better job at convincing me they care about sounding and being country, not just as a business move.

  12. wmcmNo Gravatar says:

    By the way if you want to find people with similar vocal style to Taylor but better voices and less juvenile lyrics try: A Fine Frenzy, Erin McCarley, and Ingrid Michaelson. I really think they’re a big influence on Taylor and you can also really hear Hayley Williams’s influence on Taylor on Speak Now too. They’re not country but that won’t surprise anybody.

  13. Noah EatonNo Gravatar says:

    I stand corrected in my initial claim that this is her fifth single from “Speak Now”.

    At the time of finalizing my contribution, I was only taking into account single releases marketed to Country airwaves, and overlooked the fact “The Story of Us” was serviced to the Mainstream Top 40 format while “Mean” was minted the album’s third single for the Country format.

  14. Noah EatonNo Gravatar says:

    As far as “Dear John” is concerned, I have to respectfully disagree with that as a leading single contender.

    It will inevitably be prone to staggering radio editing treatment if Big Machine dared to attempt its bid at radio, and would diminish the record of its poignancy and anguish in result. Anything less than minor edits outside the scope of the lyrics would not serve this cut justice.

    The title track is the strongest remaining single contender on the standard edition of “Speak Now” as far as I’m concerned, with “Enchanted” also worthy.

  15. CorryNo Gravatar says:

    Hi guys, I’ve been a reader for a while now, but this is my first time to comment here. To be honest, I’m not into country like y’all, I’m more into indie rock & folk stuffs. I just wanna know if any of people here have heard Bon Iver’s music. I’m a fan of him (Justin Vernon of Bon Iver), so I just want to ask you, what if Taylor pull a Bon Iver with her next record, do you think it will be great or not? I’m curious about this. I’ve imagined this for a while now, and want to hear others’ opinions about it. :-)

  16. DiamondNo Gravatar says:

    Dan: “Can’t we end this weird fan war and just all hate Justin Moore together?” Maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever read on this blog. Almost dropped my coffee mug. I needed that. Thanks.

  17. GalPalNo Gravatar says:

    Oh wow-shocking!! Country Universe giving Taylor Swift a good review!! You guys never cease to aamaze me. You must be tone deaf as hell or daddy’s dearest is paying you well. This girl cannot sing-however she can write…and oh wait…she can swing that hair…but anyway you cut it…she cannot sing. So sad that they even pay you to comment on her single. I should have your job…at least I would be honest.

  18. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    You got us, GalPal. We secretly think this song stinks to high heaven, but we reviewed it positively because Taylor’s daddy is paying us. We’re so dishonest. Happy now?

    By the way, this is hardly the first time Swift has been reviewed positively on CU, which is not to say that she has not received her share of negative reviews as well. (See “Mine,” “Love Story,” “Picture to Burn,” etc.) It’s just that we do not happen to be in the habit of automatically dimissing every Swift song without giving it a proper analysis simply because she is not a world-class vocalist. Hopefully this helps you find the next positive Swift review less shocking.

  19. YoggyNo Gravatar says:

    GalPal, I think you’ve watched too much talent show. And please, read the article carefully, before you comment next time. I’ll be very embarrassed if I was you.

  20. GalPalNo Gravatar says:

    to Ben Foster-” It’s just that we do not happen to be in the habit of automatically dimissing every Swift song without giving it a proper analysis simply because she is not a world-class vocalist. Hopefully this helps you find the next positive Swift review less shocking.” No-but you appear to diss several singers who can actually sing and YOU DO give better reviews for Taylor than others. By your response, just makes it more plausible. Thank you for confirming. I will continue to moniter…and to Yoggy-I did read it and so maybe you should do the same. Based on interpretation of read article-

  21. JoeNo Gravatar says:

    Nice reviews. Not my favorite song on her album, but it is really compelling in its simplicity. Love hearing it on the radio. :)

    That is really unfortunate that Taylor`s single choices this era do not represent “Speak Now” album very well. Her best album to date by miles.

  22. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    What’s your point, GalPal? That every singer who is a better vocalist than Swift should automatically get a positive review? Do song quality and production not play into part at all?

    There are many different characteristics to take into consideration when reviewing a song. A mediocre song can be elevated by a compelling vocal, or a great song can speak to us in spite of a lackluster vocal. Besides that, reviewing is subjective by nature, and songs are evaluated on an individual level that makes it implausible to judge them on terms that are strictly black and white.

    You’re entitled to your own opinion of Swift, as well as any other artist. But to accuse anyone who expresses a differing opinion as being somehow ‘dishonest’ is disrespectful as well as delusional.

  23. GalPalNo Gravatar says:

    And you said a mouthful. No where in my “conversation” with you did I, in anyway, state “dishonest” much less disrespectful to you. You have stated your opinion as I have mine-for you to take my review of this review with such disdain speaks loudly. I am sorry if I have hurt your feelings in any way-that was not my intent. I, too, did my own review. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  24. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t mind disagreement – In fact, I welcome it – but it was the presentation, particularly in your first comment, that I took issue with.

    You must be tone deaf as hell or daddy’s dearest is paying you well…. I should have your job…at least I would be honest.

    ^To me, that’s basically a backhanded accusation of dishonesty/bias, if that helps you see what I was getting at in my replies.

    I’m not sure what you meant by saying that my “disdain speaks loudly,” but I apologize if I overreacted. Hopefully we can agree to disagree.

  25. GalPalNo Gravatar says:

    Yes we can…have a Merry Christmas-

  26. JeicNo Gravatar says:

    Hi galpal. You have talent? So sing for us that you are better than Taylor. It seems like you are acting that you can do better than her. Lol mean-deaf

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