Why Fearless Again? Why Not.
You probably pre-ordered your copy of Fearless Platinum Edition from Amazon.com like I did.
Amazon probably e-mailed you a coupon for this album because the industrious goods-search-engine instinctively knows how much you love Taylor Swift.
So, when you received the new Fearless album with six previously unreleased recordings at work last week, you probably threw up your hands and yelled Hallelujah at a volume for your entire office suite to hear. Alarmed by your exclamation, they asked, “What’s the good news? Are you getting married or are you pregnant or did you get a new job or all of the above?” You waved the silver, black, and blonde CD in their direction and slowly retreated to the corner of your cubicle, your headphones tangled in white knots.
Am I right?
… It doesn’t matter if I’m right. Keep reading.
Fearless Platinum features five new tracks and one re-vision of an original Fearless song, “Forever and Always.” This is a big deal. Can you think of any artist who’s so graciously re-packaged his/her/their album with new music only one year after the original release? And a DVD with all kinds of visual goodies on it? I can’t.
On the inside cover of the CD booklet, there’s a handwritten note from Taylor. It begins:
First and foremost, thank you for buying the Fearless Platinum Edition. When I put out Fearless, I had high hopes and no expectations. A short time later, I sit here, trying to think of words that might fully express to you how thankful I am.
Is she nuts? Fearless is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard in my life. Believe it or not – other people agree with me. The note continues to describe the songs she’s included in the platinum edition, but I’ll tell you about that.
The Quintessential Taylor Swift
Two songs strike me as through-and-through Taylor Swift-ies: “Jump Then Fall” and “The Other Side of the Door.”
The album opens with “Jump Then Fall,” solely written by Taylor, (which, were I to re-organize this album, would not come first). It has the positive energy that seeps through jaunty guitar playing and Taylor’s pretty voice singing
I like the way you sound in the morning
We’re on the phone and without a warning
I realize your laugh is the best sound I have ever heard
Love it. Live it. This is Taylor Swift. Don’t mistake her gushing as some romantic teenager’s vision of love. She sees what’s beautiful in the world and infuses her music with her view.
I might argue that “The Other Side of the Door,” the other totally-Taylor (and totally written by her) newbie to Fearless, is actually the best song on the CD. It reminds me of everything that’s great about Taylor’s music: a laidback banjo-beat, earnest delivery of lyrics, brazenly honest self-portrait as someone who’s difficult in love:
I said leave, but all I really want is you
To stand outside my window throwing pebbles
Screaming I’m in love with you
What do I love best about this song? It has so much Taylor imagery: “throwing pebbles” (from “Love Story”), “that little black dress” (from “Tim McGraw), ” slamming door” (from “Our Song”), “pouring rain” and even “faded picture of a beautiful night” (from “Fearless”), “beautiful eyes” (from “Teardrops on My Guitar”) and possibly more.
Tried a Little Tenderness
At the center of her additions to Fearless is a mass of tenderness so stark your heart all but melts as you listen to her sweet voice move across bars supported by banjo and guitar strumming.
Take “Forever and Always,” for instance. A song that once felt angst-driven is now stripped down to delicate vocals and piano, with harmonizing voices weaving through the chorus.
It isn’t a song about a girl on the brink of revenge. It’s raw, in the midst of heartbreak and betrayal. We’re with her at the center of an emotional mess much deeper than the quicker, louder parent version of the song might betray.
Second on the CD, the less memorable “Untouchable,” co-written with a handful of others, similarly penetrates this mushy tender place behind the strong exterior often associated with Taylor’s persona. Slower and accented with steel guitar shimmers, this song lacks the tightly wound narrative and line-by-line perfection characteristic of the bulk of Fearless. Yet there’s a lulling, dream-like quality to it that has definitely made the wait between tracks one and three manageable.
A Lot More Country (Than I Expected)
Although her roots are in Nashville’s scene, Taylor is perceived as not-quite-country by many.
She doesn’t write songs about NASCAR. Give her a break.
“Come in With the Rain” and “Superstar” have distinctively country vibes. Steel guitar, strings, banjo, and the staccato rhythms of the verses followed by a long sway of choruses create the right kind of tension to at least give the impression she isn’t the pop star US Weekly wants her to be.
In “Come in With the Rain,” co-written by Liz Rose of “White Horse” fame, she sings:
Talk to the wind, talk to the sky
Talk to the man with the reasons why
And let me know what you find
Read these lines in your head or aloud. Take in their simple poetry that reminds you of so many “real” country songs you’ve heard.
“Superstar,” which is also co-written by Liz Rose, totally blows my mind. It’s a beautiful song, yes, but the lyrics truly define what sets Taylor Swift apart from her contemporaries. She’s singing about a superstar–not herself:
So dim that spotlight, tell me things like I can’t take my eyes off of you
I’m no one special, just another wide eyed girl who’s desperately in love with you
Give me a photograph to hang on my wall
Who does this? Taylor Swift is the definition of Superstar, yet she’s willing to show us that she’s like us–I mean, like me–the unflappable fan who can only admire the larger-than-life performer from afar; the person who sees herself as so much smaller and as “no one special” in comparison to the singer on stage.
On every album, in every song, Taylor Swift is showing her listener that she’s the same as anyone at the other end of the headphones. She’d never see it any differently.
If you haven’t used your Amazon coupon to buy Fearless Platinum, I suggest you use it today, at this very moment.