Taylor Swift has a natural infinity for the underdog and while from this distance it is hard to see why, you might, with a leap of imagination, imagine Taylor as this gangly frizzy haired wallflower towering over the boys in Junior High and mooning over her guitar.
You can imagine that, not unlike the girl in “You Belong To Me”, remember, Taylor was the one in the bleachers and even if that was a long time ago, it wasn’t THAT LONG AGO. And anyway, Taylor speaks to and for her audience and her audience are normal girls and I guess most girls are in the bleachers any way.
Still, it is that outsideness at the heart of Swift’s lyrical gifts that allows people to gravitate towards her. It’s not that we’re being conned, it’s not that we think we can be her, it’s that we think she could be our friend, it’s that we think she could understand us. If you listen to her other two movie songs (not including the” Hannah Montana the movie” country song, which was more a live performance), “Today Was A Fairy Tale” and “Safe And Sound”, they circle her personality. The criminally underestimated “Fairytale” is the blueprint for how Taylor writes songs, even the song title is what we expect from Swift. The bridge is a wonder. Every major songwriter I speak to about Taylor loves her and the bridge on this song is exactly why. But the lyric is like an uber-Swift: it is a precise evocation and perhaps that slight distancing of being for a movie, effected it.
But if “Fairytale” was the ultimate Swift song and if it might have made it on any of her albums except maybe Red, “Safe And Sound” is the Swift that we dream about. With the fabulous duo the Civil Wars singing backup, this is haunting American folk from deep in the rural mountains. There is something worried about her vocal, a tender hopelessness: “Don’t you dare look out your window, darling, everything’s on fire. The war outside our door keeps raging on hold on to this lullaby even when music’s gone.” If “Fairytale” is a fairytale, “Safe And Sound” is a dystopia. It is a world with only the warmth of her voice to shield you.
Which leads us to “Sweeter Than Fiction”, released yesterday it is off the “One Chance” drama about Paul Potts, a bullied lonely boy who sang opera at night and then got his once chance, auditioning for “Britain’s Got Talent” and eventually winning it all. Julie Walters, an actress I adore, plays Potts mommy and David Frankel, who brought us “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Hope Springs” (oh, and “Marley And Me”) is the director
Swift’s empathy for the story fits well into our sense of what she is like. You just know Taylor loves singers and hates bullies and it is for sure because of this she recorded her first new song since Red last year. The sound is electronic power pop with a rock band backing, the drums sound programmed and the opening electronic fuzz is a fake out but a good one, once the song kicks in the electric guitar carries it along.
There are only two types of people in this world, those who are going to hail “Sweeter Than Fiction” as a wonderful, heart warming Swift pop song and everybody else. If you love Swift, there is no doubt that she has lost nothing since Red. Written to order, it does the job, it is a thematic summation and it has a joy to go along with its movement.
I read where Swift is back in the studio and has begun recording her follow up to Red. “Sweeter Than Fiction” stands alone but it stands tall.
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