Swift doesn't hold back on Speak Now

Album ReviewSpeak Now★★★★★

You can say what you like about Taylor Swift, but she can move records like nobody else, racking up eye-boggling numbers even in a struggling industry.

Swift's sophomore release, Fearless, was the best-selling album of 2009; a monumental feat capped by its receiving the honor of Album of the Year at the 52nd Grammy Awards. On Monday the 20-year-old songstress released her third album, Speak Now.

First things first: Speak Now is hardly a country album. Swift's penchant for storytelling - she wrote the entire album entirely by herself - may be inspired by the country genre, but the instrumentation and production hearken to a diverse set of musical styles.

Lyrically, Speak Now is a concept album. Each track is an open letter from Swift to third parties: her band, a nasty critic and boys she never followed through with are a few of the targeted audiences. It's when she addresses specific high-profile individuals, though, that things get interesting.

"Better than Revenge" is a fast-paced romp that some are speculating is about Camilla Belle, rumored to have broken up Swift's relationship with Joe Jonas. "She's better known for the things that she does on the mattress," Swift sings.

"Back to December" is a wistful apology to former boyfriend Taylor Lautner and it marks the first time Swift has taken the blame for a breakup. Then there's "Innocent," in which Swift seems to forgive - or at least sympathize with - Kanye West.

The standout track of the album, though, is "Dear John." Widely speculated to be what is essentially a musical crucifixion of John Mayer, the track smolders along for almost seven minutes. Swift sings: "Dear John/ I see it all now it was wrong/Don't you think 19's too young to be played by your dark twisted games when I loved you so/ I should've known."

While Swift includes enough signature happy-ending and rush-of-love songs to excite even the most seasoned heart, Speak Now holds more than a few hints that Swift is indeed growing up. "Last Kiss" epitomizes the raw sadness that comes after the loss of a relationship with a maturity that sounds like it came from a 20-year-old and not a teenager: "So I'll watch your life in pictures like I used to sleep/And I feel you forget me like I used to feel you breathe/And I'll keep up with our old friends just to ask them how you are/Hope it's nice where you are," she sings in the tear-inducing bridge.

If you're already a Swift fan, you'll love Speak Now; if you hate her, you'll be disgruntled to know that this collection will likely be as deservedly critically and commercially successful as its predecessors. The girl knows how to spin a song.