Taylor Swift’s fame is so indelibly intertwined with her music that it’s hard to hear her third album through its tabloid-baiting backstory. If you’ve listened to the 20-year-old pop-country crossover artist’s previous efforts, you’ll be familiar with her predilection for confessional songwriting aimed at her supposed revolving door of famous boyfriends and acquaintances.
Celebrity aside, Speak Now is as hooky as its predecessors but differs in its often angry, spiteful tone. Swift is tearing a page from country music’s spurned lover playbook, but her unctuous vocal delivery has a tendency to undermine her more pointed lyrics. The album expands Swift’s repertoire from country to blues and brooding arena-ballad territory, but ultimately she plays it too safe with the arrangements, watering down the slightly darker country and blues edges with slickly produced power pop and a sugary sameness indiscernible from any number of today’s radio-oriented artists.
Top track: Mean