Taylor Swift: Speak Now


RIYL: Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood

taylor_swift_speak_now This is what happens when you’re a 20-year-old powerhouse in an industry perilously short on power: you decide you’re going to write all the songs on your third album by yourself, and you’re going to co-produce it, too. Who’s going to stop you? Your first two releases sold a combined 10 million copies, you’re the biggest act on your label, and the last time someone got in your way, they had to go on TV – on that awful, short-lived Jay Leno show, no less – and apologize.

And because you’re only 20, and because the music industry has never really cared about artistic growth, the songs on your new album are going to sound pretty much like the ones you recorded before – which will be a very good thing, according to the record company’s accountants and the millions of 10-year-old girls who glue your picture to their binders, but also sort of troubling in terms of your long-term prospects. Because when you’re that age, you can get away with writing glittery ballads and snotty, vindictive kiss-off songs and chalking it up to an autobiographical concept – in your words, “boy-crazy country starlet tries to stop dripping tears all over her guitar” – but you should also be craving change and experimentation rather than reheated formula. And no, that doesn’t mean writing a song that sounds like you’ve been listening to a lot of Coldplay (“Enchanted”) or testing the limits of how long one boy-crazy country starlet can drag out a soggy breakup song (“Dear John,” 6:43).

It isn’t all bad. In fact, a lot of it is quite good. Your thin, tremulous vocals remain a weak point, as your critics are so fond of pointing out (and as you winkingly acknowledge in one of the album’s best tracks, “Mean”), but if a weak singing voice meant you couldn’t be a star, then Bob Dylan would still be Robert Zimmerman. The important thing is that you have an uncommon gift for melody, and even if you also have an annoying, Art Alexakis-ish tendency to repeat musical themes, there’s no arguing with your ability to put together an indelible hook. You do it on your third album, and often enough to pretty much guarantee another multiplatinum certification – but not often enough to cover up for the fact that the day is coming when your petulant rockers (“Better Than Revenge”) and unicorn ballads (“Sparks Fly”) won’t be cute anymore. And what then? No matter how many times they play Speak Now, your listeners won’t have a clue. You probably don’t either, and that’s fine – hell, that’s what being 20 is all about. But it sure would be nice if some of those scary wide open spaces showed up on your next record. (Big Machine 2010)

Taylor Swift MySpace page

  

Taylor Swift: Fearless – Platinum Edition


RIYL: Julianne Hough, Miranda Lambert, buying stuff twice

Even by the record industry’s inflated, pre-Internet standards, Taylor Swift’s Fearless was a huge album, particularly for a teenage singer/songwriter on her sophomore release: in less than a year, it sold more than five million copies in the States, spun off a record-breaking 12 Top 40 hits, and provided some of 2009’s only tangible evidence that someone other than Michael Jackson can still sell records. All of which is presumably the only justification Swift’s label needed to join the obnoxious “deluxe reissue” trend by tacking on five brand new recordings, a “piano version” of album track “Forever & Always,” and a bonus DVD containing five music videos, four behind-the-scenes featurettes, a photo gallery, and the infamous CMT Awards clip that found Swift donning a sideways cap and rapping alongside T-Pain as T-Swizzle. It’s a ton of extra content, to be sure – and at Amazon’s loss-leader early price of $14.99, it’s a heckuva bargain, too. And it’s also worth mentioning that in today’s era of a la carte digital distribution, this kind of repackaging isn’t quite as crass as it was before iTunes and Amazon’s MP3 Store came along. Still, Fearless: Platinum Edition fails to resonate on two levels: first, although the new tracks aren’t bad at all, they don’t feel like missing pieces of the original album – which ties into the second problem, which is that at 19 tracks and almost 100 minutes of music, this is a bloated, unfocused version of a record that was pretty close to perfect as it was. Why not release an EP – or better yet, why not save these songs for the next full-length album? Simply to drop a piece of premium-priced product on store shelves in time for the holiday season, when Swift’s many teenaged fans can hit up their loved ones for a copy. Fearless still does a fine job of illustrating Swift’s gifts as a songwriter and performer, but this version just isn’t as much fun. (Big Machine 2009)

Taylor Swift MySpace page

  

AskMen readers rank 99 Most Desirable Women, inadvertently create world’s worst playlist

Our friends at AskMen.com have unveiled their annual list of the Top 99 Most Desirable Women, as voted by their readers (who cast a staggering 10 million votes), and it is every bit the cornucopia of babeness that you’d expect it to be. We obviously can’t tell you who’s at the top of the list, but on a personal note, I was thrilled to see that my girl Anne Hathaway went Top Ten, even beating out smoking hot Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio to boot. Kristen Bell and Megan Fox made the top ten as well, and given the performance by the former in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Heroes,” and the performance by the latter’s stomach in “Transformers,” this should surprise no one.

Rihanna However, after a quick glance of the list, I realized something: for as oversexed as everything has gotten these days, rock babes are in disturbingly low supply. Only one singer made the top ten – yes, Scarlett Johannson made an album, but she doesn’t count – and it should surprise no one that it’s the girl that doesn’t go anywhere without her umbrella, ella, ella. From there, though, the pickings are slim. Christina Aguilera is at #35, and Miss Sasha Fierce (Beyoncé) is at #50. Really, #50? That’s the best she could do?

Being the site’s head music geek, I looked at the list of rock babes – and we admit that we use the word ‘rock’ loosely, as these women are all pop stars – and imagined someone assembling a mix of their music and only their music. Along with Rihanna, Beyoncé and Xtina, you can add Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger (#65), Jessica Simpson (#70), and, gulp, Britney Spears (#90). Aiiiiieeeeeeeee! That’s the iPod from hell, right there, though I do think “Umbrella” is a monster jam. Still, imagine going to a party, and all they played were the above artists. Admit it: you’d leave the party. However, if those women were all present at the party, you’d stay, which means that while the voters were asked to look beyond sex appeal and rank the women that have the qualities they would most like in a companion (intelligence, humor, character and ambition), it’s clear that when it comes to music, sex appeal is still driving the car, intelligence is in the back seat, and character is tied up in the trunk.

Katy Perry Ambition, however, is riding shotgun, which brings us to the singer at #32. Katy Perry. Now, if we’re just looking at photographs, I can see why guys would dig Katy Perry. She looks like the slutty third Deschanel sister, and talks about kissing girls, which is catnip to horny guys. There is just one small problem with her: she’s the phoniest phony in all of Phonyland, and a sorry excuse for a pop star. Add her to the party playlist and the people present at the party, and I’m leaving. Give me Kylie Minogue (just missed the cut, we’re told) over Perry any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Please, please give me Kylie Minogue.

The sad, unspoken part of all this is that the performance of women rockers on this list is certainly a ripple effect of how much we devalue music these days. Ten years ago, this list would be crawling with singers. Twenty years ago, there would have been more singers than actresses. Today, we get Katy Perry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine list of women overall – hard to argue with Keeley Hazell, after all – but the music fan in me feels like this list serves as a stinging indictment of how completely screwed up the music business is these days. Sigh.

  

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