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Taylor Swift's 'Fearless' Follow-Up Album

DAVE DAVIES. host:

Taylor Swift got a contract to write country songs in Nashville when she was just 14 years old. She released her first album in 2006 at the age of 16, and it became one of the most successful country music debuts in recent memory. Now, she's released her second album, "Fearless," filled with songs about teenage heartbreak and school romance. But rock critic Ken Tucker says there's music here that will resonate with many adults as well.

(Soundbite of song "Fifteen")

Ms. TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors. It's the morning of your very first day. You say hi to your friends you ain't seen in a while, and try to stay out of everybody's way. It's your freshman year, and you're gonna be here for the next 4 years in this town, hopin' one of those Senior boys will wink at you and say you know I haven't seen you around before. 'Cause when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe them...

KEN TUCKER: When it comes to songs about the hopes and desires of a 15 year old, you get the feeling that no one speaks with more authority and catchy precision than Taylor Swift, for whom "Fifteen" was pretty much yesterday. It would usually be a back-handed complimented best to say that an album sounds like the diary entries of a young girl. But for Swift, it's a measure of her uncanny evocativeness.

(Soundbite of song "Tell me Why")

Ms. SWIFT: (Singing) I took a chance, I took a shot and you might think I'm bulletproof, but I'm not. You took a swing, I took it hard and down here from the ground I see who you are. I'm sick and tired of your attitude. I'm feeling like I don't know you. You tell me that you still love me then cut me down and I need you like a heartbeat but you know you got a mean streak makes me run for cover when you're around and here's to you and your temper. Yes, I remember what you said last night, and I know that you see what you're doing to me. Tell me why...

KEN TUCKER: It's not just the words, which of necessity are conversational to the point of barely bothering to rhyme. Swift's overwriting goal was to create a feeling of intimacy among her peers, which precludes fancy rhetorical flourishes. But it's also in the music. Her melodies combine country, soft rock, and hard-edge folk to create a fine confessional mode.

(Soundbite of song, "You Belong with Me")

Ms. SWIFT: (Singing) You're on the phone with your girlfriend, she's upset. She's going off about something that you said. 'Cause she doesn't get your humor like I do. I'm in my room, it's a typical Tuesday night. I'm listening to the kind of music she doesn't like And she'll never know your story like I do. But she wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts. She's cheer captain, and I'm on the bleachers. Dreaming about the day when you wake up and find what you're looking for has been here the whole time. If you could see that I'm the one who understands you. Been here all along so why can't you see. You belong with me, you belong with me...

KEN TUCKER: That song features a little twang in the vocal and a little fiddle in the instrumental mix. But what it really is, is a driving pop song about being out of place. Of being the second choice to a guy who wants to be with a popular girl instead of Taylor, who's busy identifying herself as a, "girl in the bleachers". That is to say an observer, an outsider. If the set up is improbable, I'm reasonably sure a girl with Swift's impish smile was pretty popular even before she got a record contract. The song writing and vocal performance is all intense ache. And intense ache is one of the best things adolescence has always contributed to modern pop music.

(Soundbite of song "Hey, Stephen")

Ms. SWIFT: (Singing) Hey Stephen, I know looks can be deceivin'. But I know I saw a light in you. And as we walked we were talking. I didn't say half the things I wanted to. Of all the girls tossing rocks at your window. I'll be the one waiting there even when it's cold. Hey Stephen, boy, you might have me believin' I don't always have to be alone. 'Cause I can't help it if you look like an angel. Can't help it if I wanna kiss you in the rain so. Come feel this magic I've been feeling since I met you. Can't help it if there's no one else. I can't help myself...

KEN TUCKER: One reaction you might have to this country music is to say, is this country music? Yeah. No matter how many millions of albums Taylor Swift sells, and her first one sold six, no one is going to confuse her with Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, or even the more pop-oriented country idol of her, Shania Twain. But then again, how many teenagers are even paying lips service to country music as a vehicle for careful songcraft and impassion emotionalism. Two albums in, Taylor Swift is sounding less like a novelty act than like someone who already knows that a lot of us never stop experiencing those feelings of righteous anger, insecurity, and giddiness.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Fearless" by Taylor Swift. Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller. Her interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salat, Phyllis Myers, Monique Nazareth, and Marie Baldonado, Joan Tui Westman(ph), Sam Brigger, Jonathan Menjivar, John Myers and John Shien(ph). For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of song "Forever and Always")

Ms. SWIFT: (Singing) Once upon a time, I believe it was a Tuesday. When I caught your eye, we caught onto something. I hold onto the night you looked me in the eye and told me you loved me, were you just kidding? 'Cause it seems to me, this thing is breaking down. We almost never speak, I don't feel welcome anymore. Baby, what happened, please tell me. 'Cause one second it was perfect, now you're halfway out the door. And I stare at the phone, he still hasn't called. And then you feel so low you can't feel nothin' at all. And you flashback to when he said forever and always. Oh oh, and it rains in your bedroom, everything is wrong. It rains when you're here and it rains when you're gone. 'Cause I was there when you said forever and always. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.