Taylor Swift – Speak Now: A Fan’s Review

Here again is my usual disclaimer I post when writing about Taylor Swift: I’m unabashedly, unashamedly a fan of Ms. Swift and her music. If you’re searching for a truly objective critique of the new record, you probably won’t find it here.

Okay, now onto the business at hand.

She had the top selling album of 2009, a completely sold out US tour and has spent the past two years seemingly in the full glare of the spotlight. But, through it all, Taylor Swift has remained the same person she was before this whirlwind of a career started. It’s only been just over four years since she released her debut album at sixteen, and now she’s a multi-platinum selling artist who’s latest record has been touted by some writers as the one ‘that will save the record industry’ in terms of sales.

No pressure. No, really, she seems to feel no pressure, at least she doesn’t show it.

Penning all fourteen songs herself, her songs deal with things that have happened to her over the last two years. So, naturally, there’s a song about that little incident at last years MTV Video Music Awards, [Innocent], there’s a song about her ex-boyfriend Taylor Lautner [Back To December] and  one that is a none too veiled kiss off to John Mayer [Dear John]. If you’ve followed the celebrity pages at all, then you know what Taylor’s up to, and thus, you know what these songs are about. In her earlier songs, like ‘Teardrops On My Guitar’ or ‘Hey Stephen’ she would name names. Now she doesn’t have to because everyone knows exactly who she’s talking to, or about. Even if she won’t admit it in an interview.

Yes, they’re personal songs. But, the songs are not unrelatable for the listener. Everyone’s lost at love, had to apologize to someone, been in a bad relationship; Swift just gets to do all of that [mostly] in the public eye.

Some in the country establishment have cried foul for years saying Taylor is anything but country. While it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to be a specific genre, ‘Speak Now’ does have two songs that probably sound more country than anything on her last multi-platinum effort, Fearless: ‘Mean’ and ‘Never Grow Up.’ Those acoustic gems are right alongside tunes like the disco flavored ‘Story of Us’ and the dreamlike soundscape that makes up what I consider the album’s highlight, ‘Enchanted’.

It could be a tricky situation for some, trying to grow up in the spotlight, with so many looking forward to what you have to say next. Swift has grown up a lot over the last two years and her maturity shines on this record, but nothing here sounds forced or calculated to be a hit [but who are we kidding? This album will be platinum in two weeks anyway!] Amid all the buzz this album has, the underlying fact is that the songs are strong and radio-ready.

With all of the music world watching and waiting on her, Swift has delivered a very personal, direct record that builds on the success of Fearless  without sounding like Fearless Part Two. Will this win her any new fans? Maybe. But it you’re not a fan already, then you probably won’t be.
That’s okay. You’ll be the one missing out on all the fun.

Taylor Swift — Speak Now — Big Machine Records: Highlights — Back To December, Mine, Sparks Fly, Enchanted, Better Than Revenge.


Read the story of how I became a Taylor Swift fan here
Read my reviews of Taylor’s Fearless tour here and here

Roger Waters Presents The Wall @ Verizon Center, Washington DC, 10.10.10

There are concerts and live shows…and then there are events! Once I heard in June that former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters would be touring the US with a production of the classic Pink Floyd album ‘The Wall’, I knew this was going to be an event, and I knew I had to see it. ‘The Wall’ found me in tenth grade [the album first and soon after the film] and, to this day it remains one of my top 10 albums of all time. It’s also really the only Pink Floyd album I can listen to and still enjoy. Nothing else in their catalog has stood the test of time for me or resonated with me like Waters’ semi-autobiographical story set to music.

As far as Pink Floyd fans go, I know of none more dedicated and rabid than my friend Eddie. As sure as I knew I had to see the show, I knew that if anyone was going to find a way to see this event, it was going to be Eddie.

When tickets went onsale, we soon realized we weren’t going to be able to afford floor seats, so we went with the upper concourse seats in the center. Most shows, this would be a ‘bad’ seat, but I guessed the production would be big enough to keep us interested despite the distance, and I was spot on.

As we found our seats at the front of our section, we were in fact dead center. Before us we saw the partially constructed ‘Wall’ and various ‘bricks’ strewn about the front of the stage. That’s when it hit me that we were going to see a production very close in spirit and execution to the legendary 1980-81 tour that Pink Floyd mounted to support ‘The Wall’ when it was first released. I looked over at Eddie, smiled and said, ‘This…is gonna be huge!’

The tickets said ‘8pm Prompt!’ so I had figured the lights would go down by 8:05 or so. Not so much. Finally, around 8:20, a voice came over the PA and advised against flash photography, warned of strobes and explosions [like the 18,000+ fans didn’t already know this show had explosions?], and then, while the houselights remained up, the sound of a TV changing channels was heard. Setting the mood for the insanity to come, bits of George Carlin’s ‘Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television’ and scenes from South Park played, along with other noise.

Eventually, the lights went down and then suddenly, their was a loud bang and the beginning of ‘In The Flesh’. When that opening song ended with a ‘plane crash’ into the stage amid more flames and explosions, I knew my hunch that this was going to be an event was not misplaced. As opening numbers go, it was one of the best concert moments I will ever have.

The brief backstory about how The Wall came to be is this: As Floyd became a stadium band in the 1970’s, Waters became disillusioned that some people were coming to see Floyd because the show was a party, and these people, in Roger’s eyes, didn’t care about the music or the band. He became alienated, though never as ‘out there’ as the lead character of The Wall. Add to that story line how the death of his father in World War II shaped Waters as a child, and you have the ingredients for an epic project of self-loathing and reawakening.

Not your average rock and roll show.

When Floyd toured in 1980-81, the band weren’t getting along and in some of the recordings that were later released of the live show, it sounds like Waters truly is having a breakdown on stage. I can say now that, 30 years later, after the death of band mates Richard Wright and Syd Barrett over the last five years, it seems that Waters is in a better frame of mind concerning the intensely personal material that The Wall covers.

Early in the show, much to my surprise, Roger actually spoke to the audience. I didn’t expect that at all, thinking he would ‘stay in character’ for the entire two-act show. Before performing ‘Mother’, he thanked the crowd and said he was pleased to ‘see some old people here’ who remembered the 1970s.

As each song was performed, more and more bricks were added to the wall. Another great ‘once in a lifetime concert moment’ was being part of the throng of voices screaming ‘We don’t need no education!’ at the top of my lungs. That moment alone was worth the price of an overpriced upper concourse ticket.

At the end of ‘Act One’ [or record one], the wall is completely built, so literally all you see is a pristine white wall on stage, nothing else. Seeing the completed wall was quite impressive. Waters’ original plan when putting together the show in 1980 was to play the entire second act behind the completed wall, just to see how people would react to watching bricks. Thankfully, Gilmour and company talked Roger into ‘opening’ the wall, having sections of it drop away to reveal set pieces, such as a hotel room chair and lamp for ‘One of My Turns.’

The moment I will take away from the show though is actually a quote from a US President, Dwight Eisenhower. During one of my favorite moments of the show, ‘Bring the Boys Back Home’, while images of war victims flashed in quick succession on all parts of the wall, the following words were displayed, quickly yet slow enough to be able to comprehend and read what one was seeing amid the dizzying array of music, lights and spectacle: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed.”

There have been rumors of lip-syncing on this tour, and I admit there are some pretty convincing YouTube videos out there to back up the rumor. Truth be told, the only moment where I thought something may be pre-recorded was during the finale, ‘The Trial.’ Waters literally has to voice four different characters, with very distinct accents with hardly any extra time to take a breath. Even if the moment was partially on tape, that doesn’t take away in the least from the spectacle of watching the wall come down at shows end, while the audience screamed ‘Tear down the wall!’

The performance was at times nostalgic and chilling (especially when Waters shouted ‘If I had my way, I’d have all of ya shot!! and sounded like he meant it), but above all it was uplifting. Maybe in the end, we’re all, at one time or another, banging our hearts against some mad bugger’s wall.

Thanks Eddie for a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience. I know this was a ‘Bucket List’ show for you, so I’m glad I got to see it with you.

And to the lovely Latina girl who grabbed my arm and held my gaze on the way out to the parking lot, ‘I bet you could!’