RED (Taylor’s Version) review

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RED, an album filled with songs from a plethora of genres, a musicality unique and unlike any that Taylor Swift has released. Well-loved, well-received, with songs like ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ and ‘22’, the album rocketed Swift to legendary status as she experimented with a variety of artists, producers, and themes. Last Friday, Swift released the re-recorded version of the critically acclaimed album, almost a decade after its initial release.

The album has always been my favourite, and the re-recorded version is no lesser. Thirty songs, a music video, a short film, and many television appearances… all only seven months after her Fearless (Taylor’s Version) release. Swift has spoiled us with not only her fantastic songwriting and stunning production, but also with a visual story of the album, complete with a hype that, for a rerecorded album, is remarkable. It’s what makes Swift an icon.

The beauty of re-recording is that, with advanced technology and a matured voice, the tracks sound fuller and cohesive, combined with fantastic production. It’s songs like ‘Holy Ground’ and ‘State of Grace’ that benefit the most from this, as they rise in crescendo for their middle-eight to the final chorus. The production has layered the instruments with Swift’s matured voice sonically giving a clearer sound that doesn’t suffer from the ‘loudness war’ unlike the original recording, where increasing audio levels reduced audio precision. It makes for a more enjoyable record. 

Certain songs on the album got a revamp. ‘The Last Time’ featuring Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol received initially mixed reviews from critics– their two voices seemed to separate, with the production slightly lacklustre. But Swift’s mediocre is another artist’s success, the original recording was still a fantastic song filled with emotional vulnerability. The re-recording changed this– her matured voice, lower in pitch and more controlled matches perfectly with Lightbody’s. The inclusion of the military drum throughout the song adds to the tempo of what was previously, a bit of a drag. The violins are crisper, lighter, and more hard-hitting in their rhythm. 

I’ve always seen RED as the predecessor to her newest and most critically acclaimed albums, folklore and evermore, the former winning Album of the Year at the 2021 Grammys. ‘1989’, ‘reputation’ and ‘Lover’ are the pop sisters in Swift’s discography, whilst her earlier records ‘Taylor Swift’, Fearless (Taylor’s Version), and ‘Speak Now’ are country siblings. 

Whilst RED may be quite different in genre and musicality to folklore and evermore considering its pop and synth, the storytelling on the albums folklore and evermore are like what Swift began on this album with songs like ‘Starlight’ and ‘The Lucky One’, the former an ode to the Kennedys, the latter referencing Joni Mitchell, supposedly. Considering the love for the 2020 sister albums, it’s no surprise as to why this re-recording has already broken many records previously won by Swift. This isn’t only an album that fans love, but a perfect introduction to the genius and legacy of Swift for those who wrote her off as crazy or a femme fatale for writing break-up songs in the 2010s, are finally seeing what they missed.

This adds to the premise of the re-recording, as well. Within the album’s repertoire, the highly anticipated ten-minute version of fan-favourite ‘All Too Well’ was released. For the original record, Swift had to cut down the song to a suitable length but has always mentioned the ten-minute version since 2012. Anticipation was high and didn’t disappoint. A crushing, soulful heartbreak anthem– it closes the red album with the refrain of lamentation for loves lost. It was well worth the wait, with damning lyrics such as “I was never good at telling jokes/ but the punchline goes/ I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age”.

This is exactly why this album is a reclamation for Swift. Unnecessarily villainised for experiencing heartbreak at 20 years old after having dated, arguably predatory, older men– a decade later we can see that the age imbalance was wrong, but the media’s perception of Swift was even worse. 

Therefore, the rerecording is so important; it’s a redemption era for Swift’s heartbreak– and the short film accompanying the ten-minute version (which is fantastic) stars Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien– actors with a decade of age difference, much like some of Swift’s previous relationships. Seeing Sink upset and feeling discarded by her boyfriend, you can’t help but realise that she is a child, and young. Those who demeaned Swift for her previous dating history at the time might see that she was the victim, and not some villain for writing songs about men who pursued her at such an age.

The albums vault tracks add to an album already filled with emotion and a clear narrative of heartbreak– but their production and the revamping of previous songs help make the album, overall, sonically cohesive. Previously a myriad of genres, and slightly jarring in their difference, the album feels whole now. It’s Swift at her best and feels like she’s finally able to tell the full story of her past but to a new audience, older and matured. It’s something that younger Swift in her sadness probably never predicted, but for life-long fans, it proves the power of Swift’s music, and her resilience despite the brutality of the music industry and men who tried to turn her to dust.

Image: Larry Darling via Flickr

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