‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ is an impressive collection of pithy country pop songs – but, of course, we already knew that. Initially released in 2008, Taylor Swift’s breakout second record ‘Fearless’ was the one that catapulted her to the stratospheric levels of success she retains today. Receiving largely positive reviews and massive commercial acclaim, it has sold over 12 million copies internationally and it won a 20-year-old Swift her first Grammy for Album of the Year in 2010.
Now, though, Swift has done something totally unprecedented: she’s re-recorded the entire thing.
It’s the first release in Swift’s ongoing battle to regain control of her master recordings that will eventually see her re-record each of her first six albums (that’s everything from her 2006 self-titled debut up to 2017’s ‘Reputation’). This bold step is a first for the music industry and comes following several sales of Swift’s back catalogue.
The first came in 2019, when talent manager Scooter Braun (who reps artists like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber), made a $300 million acquisition of Swift’s former label Big Machine Label Group, a sale that included the recorded masters of Swift’s early albums. At the time Swift shared a piece on Tumblr that read: “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in.”
This was followed, last year, by another sale by private equity company Shamrock Holdings. At the time Swift alleged that the company had bought “100% of my music, videos and album art”, making it “the second time my music had been sold without my knowledge”. After years of attempting to regain back these masters, Swift decided enough was enough and went about regaining control in in her own inimitable way. Basically, you don’t cross Taylor Swift.
‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ both celebrates and stays true to Swift’s ‘Fearless’-era. She’s recruited musicians who were involved in the original recordings and who have been a part of her touring band, and the re-workings of the songs rarely tread far from their initial recordings.
Production here is crisper and warmer than that of the original, and Swift’s vocals are, understandably, more mature. Take the title-track ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ is a brilliant pop-rock song filled with soaring vocal melodies and starry eyed lyricism. The new mixing draws attention to the song’s stellar instrumental arrangements, with the rich bassline more prominent and mandolin and fiddle lines given space to breath. Yet despite the more mature sound, the ecstatic bridge – which sees Swift flutter, “It’s a first kiss, it’s flawless, really something / It’s fearless” – effortlessly conjures up the breathless romance and diaristic lyrics that permeated the 2008 release.
Swift also takes a trip to “the vaults”, uncovering six never-heard-before songs written at the same time as ‘Fearless’. While the addition of these new tunes does make ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ a lengthy affair (it comes in at one hour and 45 minutes), they offer an intriguing further look into the world of ‘Fearless’.
For these ‘new’ tunes, Swift teams up with her regular collaborators, super-producer Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner. Standouts include ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)’, a pop-rock break-up bop stuffed with swooning melodies and typically Swiftian lyrics, including the ‘All Too Well’ referencing eye-roll of “Hello, Mr. casually cruel” and the Keith Urban-featuring ‘That’s When’, a woozy country-pop cut that comes with euphoric layered vocals and a layer of slick ‘1989’-style production.
Listening back to the whole album has a similar effect to reading back an old diary – especially as these songs are steeped in nostalgia given the prominence on first release: they were played everywhere. ‘You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version)’, which could be the blueprint for 21st century songs about unrequited teenage romance, is stuffed full of references to high school (“She wears high heels, I wear sneakers / She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers”) and is filled with youthful yearning – but Swift never cringes away from her younger self. Instead, she revisits the songs with kindness and affection, celebrating the success of her teenage releases.
On ‘Fifteen’, a tender ballad that depicts raw tangled emotions of first heartbreak, Swift sings: “Back then I swore I was gonna marry him someday / But I realised some bigger dreams of mine”. It’s always been one of Swift’s most moving songs, but given everything she’s achieved over the past decade, and the bold steps she’s taking in the music industry, with ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’, this lyric cuts deeper. If only teenage Taylor Swift knew what was to follow.
Release date: April 9
Record label: Republic Records