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Image: Taylor Swift album "Speak Now"
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updated 10/25/2010 9:13:12 AM ET 2010-10-25T13:13:12
Review

In interviews, Taylor Swift often comes across all wide-eyed wonder, preternaturally sweet, and with girlish, bounce-on-the-bed enthusiasm. And, most importantly, she's very careful to reveal nothing.

It turns out that’s because she’s been saving all the good stuff for “Speak Now,” her new album out Oct. 25. Her first two collections, 2006’s self-titled effort and 2008’s “Fearless,” were just warm-up acts. On “Speak Now,” she’s slashed open an emotional vein and she’s let it bleed all over the tracks.

When “Speak Now’s” first single, “Mine,” came out in late summer, it sounded pretty much like more of the same, albeit in the romantic ditty she clearly was showing that she wasn’t a minor anymore. She even had a drawer at her boyfriend’s place, for gosh sake. The track wasn’t different enough to reveal if Swift was going to be able to make the leap from teenager to adult. Was she still the band geek swooning over the quarterback? Was she still singing about being 15 in a way that carried none of the emotional heft of the benchmark song about the hell of those teenage years, Janis Ian’s “At 17”?

In a word: no, she is not.

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The Swift on “Speak Now,” has a lot to say and you’re going to hear it. If you have ever done her wrong, she’s coming after you. For as popular as she’s become, Swift still comes across as an outsider looking in, easily hurt and some times befuddled by the actions of others who don’t treat her well.

The slights — perceived or real — have left their scars. She remembers every smite, every cross look and she has taken these brick bats and built a mighty wall of sound with them. Whether it’s her scathing missive, “Dear John,” allegedly about John Mayer, or her take-no-prisoners “Better Than Revenge,” she shows that underneath that sparkly exterior is a woman scorned who will retaliate if you throw the first punch.

Story: Does Taylor Swift call out John Mayer in song?

Wide open
A number of things make Swift so appealing here. First off, as we say in the south, she is wide open. She holds nothing back and is utterly fearless when it comes to revealing the gaping maw of her hurt in such an un-self-conscious way that it seems almost possible to believe she forgot that other people — millions of them — will hear her pain writ large. When she wistfully sings, "I don't know how to be something you miss" to an ex on the slow, echo-y "Last Kiss," it's heartbreaking.

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Secondly, her skills as lyricist, always her strongest point, continue to evolve. Unlike so many current writers, she knows how to tell a story. I found myself listening to the songs unable to predict how they would end. Would she and her former love reunite on “Story of Us?” Does she get the boy in “Speak Now?” I’m not telling.

But let’s get back to “Dear John.” Singing slowly and mournfully, with a pedal steel echoing her melancholy, she pointedly asks: “Don’t you think 19 is too young to be played by your dark, twisted games when I loved you so?” and then “Maybe it’s you and your sick need to give love and take it away.” I want to see her and Jessica Simpson on a very special episode of “Oprah” with Mayer left to squirm (Note to Taylor: if it's not about Mayer, you might want to say something).

Boys aren’t her only target. On the throbbing Kelly Clarkson-like “Better Than Revenge,” she lets loose on some starlet who’s gone after her man. The femme fatale may be fooling everyone else, but not Swift. “She’s not a saint, she’s an actress/She’s better known for the things she does on the mattress,” Swift sings in the only reference to actual sex on the whole album. “She should keep in mind there’s nothing I do better than revenge.” There’s blood in that vein Swift has opened, but there’s ice water too.

Story: Taylor Swift talks fame and boys
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Most of the romances, “Mine” is a notable exception, are either outright disasters or, at the very least, have dark edges, such as on the mid-tempo, layered “Sparks Fly.” 
She wants her boy to “meet me in the rain/kiss me on the sidewalk/take away the pain,” but she knows he’s a “bad idea.” On the shimmery “Back to December,” about Taylor Lautner, she’s the one asking for forgiveness.

A certain sweetness
At an age where most girls are blissfully unaware of the pains to come, Swift seems to have suffered the slings and arrows of every possible love, but in the past, it was combined with a naivete and wrapped in a certain “I still believe in unicorns” sweetness. (The exception being the excellent, sadly resigned “White Horse,” from “Fearless”) Here, she’s not quite 20-going-on-45, but a little weariness — and wariness — is sinking in. That’s what makes these songs work no matter what age you are if you’re still dealing with romance and all its seemingly endless heartaches.

Not everything succeeds. Many of the songs could use a good editing, with Swift going on a minute or two too long, as if repeating her point will make it more poignant (Yes, we mean the nearly 7-minute “Dear John.” ) Two songs, “Enchanted” and “Long Live,” are throwaways compared to the rest. “Innocent,” written about the Kanye West kerfuffle, doesn’t really hold up on its own other than as a very direct response to West.

Swift wrote all the words and music alone on “Speak Now,” a first for her, and that may explain a certain sameness to many of the melodies. She needs no help as a lyricist — that’s very clear — but it might be nice to see her work with a more experienced composer to expand her melodic sense.

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Story: Why Taylor Swift’s good girl image sells

Country radio still claims her as its own and she courts them with the solid smarts of someone who knows that format will still embrace her should the more fickle pop world turn its back. However, this is a pop record. There’s enough here for country to gravitate toward because the genre leans so pop now. Surprisingly, “Dear John” is one of the most country-sounding songs on the record, along with the banjo-laced “Mean” and the spare, lovely “Never Grow Up.”

Genres, however, don’t necessarily matter any more in Swift’s world as she’s become a true multi-format star...so much so that the interwebs are clogged with speculation as to whether “Speak Now” will have the biggest opening week of the year, and, even, could it top 1 million its first week? Sadly, those days are gone, but if any album has a shot, it’s this one.

Copyright 2012 by HitFix.com

Photos: Taylor Swift

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  1. Taylor and Timberlake

    Singer Taylor Swift, left, and Justin Timberlake, right, perform a skit during the Walmart shareholders' meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., on June 1, 2012. Swift has been a star since her early teens, and was described by the New York Times and Rolling Stone as one of music's best songwriters. (April L Brown / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Entertainer of the year

    Swift accepts the Entertainer Of The Year Award onstage at the 47th Annual Academy Of Country Music Awardsin Las Vegas on April 1, 2012. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Honored by the first lady

    Swift accepts The Big Help award from First Lady Michelle Obama onstage at Nickelodeon's 25th Annual Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles on March 31, 2012. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Down Under

    Swift performs live in Perth, Australia on March 2, 2012. (Paul Kane / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Loving the Lorax

    Swift arrives at the premiere of 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax' at Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City, Calif on Feb. 19, 2012. She voices a character named Audrey in the film. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Cover girl

    Swift appears on the cover of the February 2012 issue of Vogue. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Grammy girl

    Swift won Grammys for best country solo performance and best country song, both for "Mean," " at the 54th Grammy Awards in Los Angeles in February 2012. (Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Smell like Swift

    Swift launches her debut fragrance, "Wonderstruck," at Macy's Herald Square in New York on Oct. 13, 2011. (Evan Agostini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Opry singer

    Swift takes the stage during the Grand Ole Opry 85th birthday bash at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 9, 2010. (Tony R. Phipps / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. That was 'Easy'

    Swift, right, jons actress Emma Stone, star of the film "Easy A," at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles, on Sept. 13, 2010. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tap those feet

    Swift performs at the MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 12, 2010. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Maine attraction

    Swift greets her fans after performing in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Aug. 27, 2010. The singer filmed her music video for the single "Mine" in the town made famous as a vacation spot for the family of President George H.W. Bush. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A lot of hardware

    Swift poses in the press room with her four awards during the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. In good company

    Katy Perry, left, Swift, Rihanna and Fergie pose during the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards -- Salute To Icons Honoring Doug Morris at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A Swift response

    Swift performs at the "Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief" in Los Angeles on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. (Mark Davis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Taking in the big show

    Swift, left, and Sony CEO Howard Stringer speak at the Sony booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010. (Paul Sakuma / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Thanking her people

    Swift accepts the award for favorite female artist during the People's Choice Awards 2010 at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2010. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Holiday spirit

    John Mayer performs with Swift during Z100's Jingle Ball 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York on Dec. 11, 2009. On her new album, due out Oct. 25, 2010, Swift addresses a reported romance with Mayer in a song called "Dear John." (Jason Szenes / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Country superstar

    Swift accepts the female vocalist of the year award as presenters Lee Ann Womack, left, and Kris Kristofferson look on at the 43rd annual Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, Tenn., on Nov. 11, 2009. (Tami Chappell / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Song remains the same

    For the second year in a row, Swift holds her songwriting award as she attends the 57th Annual BMI Country Awards in Nashville, Tenn., on Tuesday, Nov. 10. (Peter Kramer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Taylor times two

    Swift, left, and Taylor Lautner attend the NHL game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Oct. 25, 2009. (Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. They're jammin'

    Jason Aldean, from left, Hillary Scott, Swift, Charles Kelly, Faith Hill and Dave Haygood perform at the "We're All For The Hall" benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame at the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 13, 2009. (Larry Busacca / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Runway watcher

    Swift, right, and Penn Badgley, who plays Dan on "Gossip Girl," watch the Tommy Hilfiger spring 2010 collection during Fashion Week in New York on Sept. 17, 2009. (Diane Bondareff / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. An infamous moment

    Singer-rapper Kanye West takes the microphone from Swift as she accepts the best female video award during the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on Sept. 13, 2009. Later in the show, Swift got her chance to finish her acceptance speech. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Dancing in the streets

    Swift performs on the street outside Radio City Music Hall during the MTV Video Music Awards in New York on Sept. 13, 2009. (Charles Sykes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. From the heart

    Swift poses in front of her newly unveiled star at Mohegan's "Walk of Fame" in Uncasville, Conn., on Aug. 28, 2009. The teenage singer has snagged at least two Country Music Award nominations, including one for the show's highest honor: entertainer of the year. (Thomas Cain / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Rockin' out

    Swift performs during a concert at New York's Madison Square Garden on Aug. 27, 2009, as part of her "Fearless" tour, her first as a headliner. (Stephen Chernin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Mixing country and rock 'n roll

    Swift and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard perform at the CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn., on June 16, 2009. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Hitting the keys

    Swift performs at the CMA Music Festival at in Nashville, Tenn., on June 14, 2009. (Josh Anderson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Wearing many hats

    T-Pain, left, and Swift rehearse for the 2009 CMT Music Awards at the Sommet Center on June 9 in Nashville, Tenn. (Austin K. Swift / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Teen star power

    Actress-singer Miley Cyrus, left, and Swift arrive at the premiere of Walt Disney Picture's "Hannah Montana: The Movie" at at the El Captian Theatre in Hollywood, Calif., on April 2, 2009. (Jeff Vespa / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. The love is gone

    Swift and then-boyfriend Joe Jonas at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards at Paramount Pictures Studios in Los Angeles on Sept. 7, 2008. Jonas reportedly broke up with her over the phone. (Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Gripping image

    Swift, left, and Kellie Pickler pose backstage during the Academy Of Country Music New Artists' Show at the MGM Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas on May 14, 2007. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A star is born

    Swift accepts the award for "Breakthrough Video of the Year" for the song "Tim McGraw" onstage at the 2007 CMT Music Awards at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., on April 16, 2007. (Peter Kramer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Playing the field

    Swift sings the National Anthem before a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies on opening day at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on April 9, 2007. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Video: Taylor Swift rocks out to ‘Mine’

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