“I’ve always said that the world is a different place for the heartbroken,” Taylor Swift wrote in a statement earlier this year, where she revealed that the next album she’d be releasing would be ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’. “It moves forward on a different axis, at a different speed.”
First released in October 2012, Swift’s fourth studio album was an honest portrayal of young heartbreak, showcasing every painful aspect of fracturing romance. She’s since said that the album resembles that of a “heartbroken person” trying to piece together the “mosaic of feelings” those moments create.
It was also where Swift’s country-crossover sound became imbued with everything from dubstep to rock, laying the groundwork for the run of fully-fledged pop albums that would follow. Crucially, though, it was clear that ‘Red’ was created by someone in their early 20s, encapsulating those formative years and emotions where everything is messy and confusing.
‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ is the latest of Swift’s re-recorded albums, part of her unprecedented venture to regain control of her master recordings after masters of her early records were sold off several times without her permission. The re-recordings began with ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’, released earlier this year, and will see her revisit her first six albums: from her 2006 self-titled debut up to 2017’s ‘Reputation’.
‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ largely follows in the footsteps of ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’, celebrating the music of Swift’s past without making any major changes. It’s not an exercise of rethinking and tweaking old songs, but to take back ownership of her own music. The production here is a little sharper, with the instrumentation being brought further into focus: the opening percussion of ‘State of Grace’ is crisper, the soft-rock guitar of the title track a little brighter and the mandolin of ‘Stay Stay Stay’ lifted.
The vocals offer the most significant change, with Swift’s voice maturing significantly in the intervening decade. You hear it clearest on the spoken-word moments, like ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’s withering put-down: “With some indie record that’s much cooler than mine“. It’s the sort of eye-roll moment typical of being a young adult, and while delivered with vim in its creation, in these moments the shifts in Swift’s lyricism and vocals in the 10 years since it was first released are obvious. It’s one of the only recognisable differences to the album’s original.
Like on the re-recorded ‘Fearless’, Swift has delved into her vault of unreleased songs by pulling out 10 new tunes and Swiftie deep cuts written during the ‘Red’ era for the expanded new version. For fans, it’s a treasure trove; a chance to appreciate a further insight into Swift’s musical world in the early 2010s.
Some of these new additions have been heard before: the poignant charity single ‘Ronan’, ‘Better Man’ – a Grammy Award-winning song for country group Little Big Town that was released in 2016 that Swift wrote several years prior – and ‘Babe’, which country duo Sugarland released a version of in 2018. On the latter two, Swift runs the songs through the ‘Red’ filter, adding mandolin and lush strings to ‘Better Man’ while long-time collaborator and producer Jack Antonoff adds brass and ‘1989’-style shine to ‘Babe’.
An unheard offering comes in the form of ‘Nothing New’, a sweet collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers that was co-produced by Aaron Dessner, who worked with Swift for the first time on last year’s lockdown albums ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’. “I’ve had too much to drink tonight / How did I go from growing up to breaking down?” the duo ask over acoustic guitars and swelling strings in the chorus, before later adding: “How can a person know everything at 18, but nothing at 22?” It’s an effortless summation of both growing pains and Swift’s distinctive lyricism.
The sprawling collection also incorporates previous collaborations that didn’t make the final ‘Red’ tracklist first time around. ‘Message In A Bottle’, an effervescent nugget of pure-pop reminiscent of Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘80s-influenced record ‘Emotion’, was co-written by hit-machines Max Martin and Shellback (who also worked on ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and ’22’ in 2012). Ed Sheeran, who previously lent his vocals to ‘Everything Has Changed’, crops up again on ‘Run’, an earnest duet with production from Dessner.
The moment Swift’s fans have been waiting for, though, comes right at the end of the two-hour album, with the notorious 10-minute-long version of ‘All Too Well’ that has been teased ahead of the album’s release. The song, considered Swift’s magnum opus, has become a fan favourite over the years, and the final moments of her second re-recorded album are dedicated to completing this beloved tune.
It’s a move that her fans have been wishing for for years — Swift first revealed in a 2012 interview that the five-minute tune was initially double that length, but trimmed down as she felt it was too long for the album. Now at its full intended length, ‘All Too Well’ only confirms its place as an epic, with the Swiftian story played out as the instrumental ebbs and flows behind her vocals. From the new lyrics, the painfully honest moments shine. “You kept me like a secret / But I kept you like an oath,” Swift reveals at one point. “You said if we had been closer in age / Maybe it would have been fine.”
As the final whispers of vocals fade away and the album draws to a close, Swift sings: “It was rare, you remember it, all too well.” It’s a moving moment on its own, but an equally appropriate assessment of this almighty song: the long-awaited masterpiece worth the wait.
Release date: November 12
Record label: Republic