August 18, Fearless (Platinum Version) by Taylor Swift
Total Number of Tracks: 19, 13 of which are on the standard edition. Of the six bonus tracks, five are additional songs, and one is a piano version of “Forever and Always” from the standard edition.
Songs you might know:
– “Love Story”
– “White Horse”
– “You Belong With Me”
My prior relationship with the album and artist: Fearless was one of those albums that I probably wouldn’t have hated as much as I did if not for how popular it became. This was a phase of Taylor’s career where she had her cute-girl-next-door-who-sings-about-her-feelings schtick, and if you didn’t like that schtick she didn’t have much else to offer. At the time I didn’t want to stray from my pop punk/alternative rock comfort zone, and so 2008 Taylor just didn’t really stand a chance of appealing to 2008 Anne.
Over the years I eventually listened to Fearless in its entirety, and I’ve always thought of it as my least favorite of Swift’s albums. Not necessarily because it’s bad, but because it’s safe. This was the Taylor Swift that just wanted to give people the exact music they expected of her, no more and no less. This is the Taylor Swift that didn’t seem to care if every song sounded the same.
My impression this time around: You know that show Law & Order? If you watch a single episode, it will most likely entertain you and perhaps even provoke much-needed thought about the two separate, but equally important groups of our criminal justice system. However, if you try to watch more than three episodes of this show in one sitting, it becomes less enjoyable. You start to see how the show recycles the same plot devices over and over again. You learn the formula well enough that you can see story beats coming from a mile away. Suddenly the show loses the thrill it had the first time you watched it.
Much of Taylor Swift’s Fearless album functions this way. The songs here are composed of two separate, but equally important parts. The lyrics, which describe some boy she likes (sometimes one she’s crushing on, sometimes an ex she misses), and the production, which features enough acoustic instruments to pass for country while keeping the percussion on the choruses heavy enough to make pop fans forget they’re listening to country.
This is where my issue with Fearless lies. Just like a Law & Order episode, most of these songs are just fine in isolation. But when you try to listen to all of them consecutively, it’s a little too easy to see how formulaic they are. There’s only so many times you can mention that it’s raining before it stops feeling like brilliant romantic imagery and instead feels like a lazy songwriter going back to her same old bag of tricks because she’s out of fresh ideas.
On a more optimistic note, there were some tracks here that pleasantly surprised me. “Tell Me Why” had never stuck out to me on prior listens, but it’s actually one of the album’s highlights, and I would argue that’s because it doesn’t water down its country sound the way so many other Fearless tracks too. I also quite enjoyed the heartfelt ballad “Breathe” even though I don’t really understand the point of saying it features Colbie Caillat when she’s just singing backup and not really making any noticeable difference to the track’s sound. “Fifteen” is another beautifully written song that illustrates the Swift gift for writing songs that feel unique to her experiences but are still universally relatable.
All in all, I think I came away from this listen with slightly more respect for Fearless than I did in prior years. However, I still think this album works better if you’re just listening to a song or two here and there than it does as an actual album. The platinum version only makes this problem worse, not better. None of the Platinum Exclusive tracks are really BAD but they also don’t bring anything fresh and exciting to the album, and instead just make it more evident that virtually every song is being made with the same predictable formula. And since the bonus tracks are added at the beginning of the album instead of the end, this meant that I was already tired of listening to Taylor Swift by the time I got to “Fifteen” which again is one of the album’s strongest tracks (and only track 2 on the standard version!)
Who would enjoy it? For better or worse, virtually every song here sounds like “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” so I feel like you already know if it’s your cup of tea or not.
My other Taylor Swift reviews: