Watch It Begin Again (Again)
On Friday November 12th, Taylor Swift did the unthinkable once again – she took one of her best albums and somehow made it even better, gifting us all with the masterpiece that is Red (Taylor’s Version).
First released in October 2012, Swift’s fourth studio album Red was the perfect heartbreak anthem everyone needed and everyone wanted, as it flawlessly portrays what it’s like to be young and consumed by poignant love.
Sonically, the record is the exact opposite of ‘cohesive’ – it has piano-ballads and banjos, cheerful ukuleles and thunderous drums, and songs that are so utterly pop, it’s obvious Taylor was looking at country music in the rearview mirror by the time she was done with the record. Red is chaotic, confusing and confused, and all over the place – just like any person in their 20’s with a broken heart.
The album was quickly able to gain success and garner critical acclaim, with many raving over the brilliant songwriting and storytelling. But most of all, Red became a Swift fan-favorite in no time. Thus, when she announced it was going to be the second step on her re-recording venture to own the master recordings of her entire catalogue, fans went wild. How could she improve what seemed to be an unimprovable album? How could she live up to her past self? But even though expectations were high and the stakes even higher, Taylor did not disappoint, and somehow took a masterpiece to the next level.
Similarly to Swift’s first re-recording – Fearless (Taylor’s Version) – released in April 2021, her newly-improved and deeper vocals add so much freshness and character to the tracks, as the adulthood in her voice now turns her fragile youthful naïveté into powerful cautionary tales. Songs with deep cuts – such as Come Back…Be Here and Sad Beautiful Tragic – benefit the most from the richness in her thirty-something vocals, as they complement the tracks in ways you weren’t even expecting. No, she doesn’t sound the same – she’s different, and better.
Nevertheless, every rose has its thorns, and this crimson record is not an exception either – the production for some of the songs is where things go a little sideways.
Pop tracks such as I Knew You Were Trouble and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together sound a little empty and without the same amount of sass as the originals, probably due to the lack of one of the 2012 producers, Max Martin. On top of that, the mixing of the album’s more pop-ish songs feel a tad… off.
The instrumentals often overpower the vocals in a very noticeable way (especially when listening with headphones), and make the experience rather jarring and overwhelming at first. It’s obvious she was a bit more invested in the acoustic-y tracks, as some of the others sound like they were done in one take because she was itching to get out of that studio. But these are only subtle differences that would probably require a trained Swiftie ear to be picked up, and might fly under the radar for more casual fans.
A more obvious victim (let’s call a spade a spade…) of changed-up production is the song Girl At Home, where the instrumentation changed so much it went from country to electro-pop, reminiscent of the 1989 sound.
Other than the O.G. tracks that were on the 2012 version (or were released as stand-alone singles, like the touching Roran), Red (Taylor’s Version) includes 9 songs which were withheld from the initial LP – or as Swift calls them, ‘From The Vault’. These are the real treat fans had long been awaiting and anticipating, especially since Red was such an experimental and transformative album sound-wise for Taylor.
Fans didn’t know what to expect from the new tracks (more country? more pop?), so the curiosity was through the roof. Plus, the 2012 record marked the moment where Swift had officially begun coming into her own as a songwriter, going from a lovestruck quick-with-the-words girl to a well-versed poet who was not afraid to be emotionally vulnerable. Hence, millions of fans were trembling with anticipation imagining what wonders she could be keeping in the drafts.
So, let’s go through the nine tracks from the vault together, and let’s see if there’s a rough diamond in the bunch (spoiler alert: there aren’t any!).
Better Man (10/10)
“But I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man”
The first vault track was actually already known to fans since 2016, when Taylor had lent the song to country group Little Big Town. Deciding whose version is the best one might be up to personal judgement, but Swift gets more points for pairing such deep country sounds with the London Contemporary Orchestra, which takes the song to its full dramatic potential.
The track is lyrically pretty straightforward and the meaning is not so hidden – in a nutshell, she’s telling this guy that things could’ve worked out between them if only he hadn’t been such a weeny. A classic country breakup anthem with the right dose of classic country sass!
Nothing New (Feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (9.5/10)
“How can a person know everything at eighteen / But nothing at twenty-two?”
This track takes the cake as one of the most highly-anticipated vault songs – a duet with the sweet-voiced Phoebe Bridgers, about growing older and worrying about losing your spotlight to someone younger.
Albeit the song being absolutely wonderful and touching, it’s understandable why it didn’t make it on the 2012 record – the song is hauntingly similar to The Lucky One, but it’s far more personal and vulnerable, something for which Taylor wasn’t ready yet.
Plus, the song would not have been nearly as great had it been a Swift solo recording; Phoebe’s verses and harmonious vocals are what turn the eerily sweet track into pure magic.
“What about your promises, promises?”
Despite sounding a bit like the discount version of Better Man, this song is another country zinger that we can’t get enough of. Just like its sibling track, Taylor had lent the song to another artist – Sugarland – in 2018, and decided to release a solo version this year. Sugarland’s version was nice for sure, but the freshness and boldness in Swift’s voice make the song what it was always supposed to be.
If I had to give one critique, I’d say that Babe was one of the unfortunate victims of the record’s wonky mixing. The instrumentation is simply too loud compared to the vocals and tends to overpower them throughout most of the song. Babe is still wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it could have easily been better had they toned down the instrumentals here and there.
Message In a Bottle (8.5/10)
“A message in a bottle is all I can do / Standin’ here, hopin’ it gets to you”
After the first listen to this dance-pop bop, you will find yourself asking, ‘How did this not make it on the first record?’. Written and produced with the hit-making duo Max Martin/Shellback, the song is fun and catchy, and undoubtedly something you could’ve found at the top of the charts in 2012/2013.
Yet, it’s not too hard to figure out why the song was initially kept in the drafts – it’s good, but way too ordinary. With its rather basic and lukewarm lyrics, it sounds like it could’ve been released by any popstar out there – it lacks the “Swift signature” that runs through her entire discography, and makes her music so personal and magic. Still, we can’t deny that it’s an absolute banger.
I Bet You Think About Me (Feat. Chris Stapleton) (9.5/10)
“I bet you think about me when you say / ‘Oh my god, she’s insane, she wrote a song about me’”
Soaked in the usual Swiftian cheekiness, this rowdy duet sounds like the lovechild of Betty and Picture To Burn – witty, sassy, and extremely country. In fact, that’s probably why the song got the boot back in 2012 – Taylor was ready to leave the yeehaw scene behind, and having a track like I Bet You Think About Me only risked holding her back from going full pop. Alas, there’s no doubt in saying it’s a great and fun song.
Forever Winter (9.5/10)
“I’ll be summer sun for you forever / Forever winter if you go”
The bittersweet Forever Winter is another gem born out of the collaboration between Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift, who have been making wonderful hits together since 2013.
The song tackles the topic of mental health and depression, as the singer lovingly tries to lift up a friend’s mood as they’re going through a rough patch, promising she’ll always be here by their side. Although the song is touching and catchy, it is already quite underrated amongst fans if you ask me – it might be the vault’s Sad Beautiful Tragic…
Run (Feat. Ed Sheeran) (8.5/10)
“Say you’ll never let ’em tear us apart / And I’ll hold onto you while we run”
The final collab on the album is another duet with Ed Sheeran, Taylor’s old-time friend and with whom she had already worked for Everything Has Changed.
The gorgeous acoustic-y track talks about wanting to flee the city with your lover, to escape the prying and judgmental eyes – a theme that becomes recurrent in Swift’s later discography, especially throughout the album 1989. The song flows more nicely, and the two artists’ vocals are more harmonious here compared to the 2012 duet – still, that might be thanks to their growth as producers and vocalists. Thus, it’s plausible that the song would not have been quite as melodious had it been released in its original form.
Additionally, Red already included a (much catchier) Swift/Sheeran collab, and Run might have been just one too many.
The Very First Night (9/10)
“No one knows about the words that we whisper / No one knows how much I miss you”
This cheerful, up-tempo song will have you shaking your hips and bopping your head, as you ask yourself the same question you thought of after listening to Message In a Bottle, ‘Why did this get scrapped?’
The Very First Night is a fun and catchy take on missing someone and wishing to go back in time to be together, as she fondly reminisces over the beginning of their love affair.
The Vey First Night definitely has the “Swift signature” – bittersweet lyrics, basic upbeat percussion, and acoustic guitar – reminiscent of the tracks Starlight and Holy Ground. It’s conceivable that the song might have gotten the shaft back in 2012 because it was too bubbly-sounding and there were already enough tracks like that, but there’s no doubt that the song was always a certified bop.
All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (10/10)
“And did the twin flame bruise paint you blue? / Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?”
The most important and popular piece of mythology within the Swiftverse is the legend of the 10-Minute Version of All Too Well, which fans have been begging for since the singer revealed its existence in a 2012 interview.
The song All Too Well (the original 5-minute version) is an absolute fan- and critic-favorite, as many name it as the peak of the Swiftian storytelling. As she combs through her memory and recalls the ups and (many) downs of the relationship in a meticulously detailed manner, she paints such a vivid and technicolor picture, you will feel as if you had been part of the love affair too. The scarf is not only Taylor’s anymore – and for those 5 minutes and 29 seconds, the heartbreak will be yours as well.
With its additional stream-of-consciousness-esque verses, All Too Well (10 Minute Version) becomes the quintessential Swiftian song – it has heartfelt and touching lines, snarky and witty remarks, and plenty of vulnerability. This fully fleshed out version gives us the whole story about how that love had burnt down in flames, one we were unknowingly missing out on for the past 9 years. Moreover, the Jack Antonoff production elevates the song even further, making it even more dreamlike and heart-wrenching.
Leave it to Taylor Swift to take her best song and make it even better!
The golden age of Red (Taylor’s Version)
Despite Red already being an iconic and amazing album, Red (Taylor’s Version) definitely takes the crown of the better sibling. Listening to the extended version feels like finally getting to read the last chapters of your favorite book you never knew was incomplete – we get to hear the whole story behind Red, filing in the blank spaces at last.
Needless to say, Taylor Swift does NOT need to be doing this. She shouldn’t be forced to re-record the majority of her catalogue just because a couple of suits decided to treat her life’s work like a commodity! But somehow, she was able to turn lemons into lemonade, and turn the re-recording process into something fans not only want, but eagerly anticipate.
After all, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is the reigning best-selling album of the year, and Red (Taylor’s Version) broke the record of the most-streamed album in a day by a female artist on Spotify – clearly, the demand for Miss. Swift is (still) very high.
But that’s somehow the silver lining of this whole masters nonsense. We get to follow along as she pays tribute to her older self, and gifts us with new songs we can belt at the top of our lungs and new lyrics we can memorize in a heartbeat. Red was a great and fervid love story, but now it’s time to move on, say “we are never ever getting back together”, and watch it begin again with Red (Taylor’s Version).
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Verdict - 9.5/10