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Taylor Swift - Red (Taylor's Version) (Album Review)

Thursday, 18 November 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Earlier this year Taylor Swift pulled off the remarkable feat of re-recording, and consequently improving, her superstar-making album ‘Fearless’. Next up, the record many consider her finest, most representative work gets the full bells and whistles makeover.  But when divorced from the unique emotional maelstrom she experienced while forging it a decade ago, Swift’s expanded version of ‘Red,’ although impressive, doesn’t strike as authentically as it did the first time around.

If you missed the backstory, Swift is reworking her earlier records after losing control of her masters when the rights to her first six LPs were sold to a company founded by Scooter Braun by label Big Machine. This supremely glossy do-over sounds magnificent from the moment State of Grace thunders out the speakers.

Its rhythmic clout is bigger and beefier, there’s extra sparkle to the high end, and thanks to a wonderful mix previously indistinct, almost ghostly, instrumental textures have been brought to the surface with colourful results on the title track, Begin Again and Trouble.

While the song's structural components remain unchanged, Swift’s improved vocal ability and soulfulness, aided by a greater depth of life experience to draw upon, gives more resonance to reflective gems like Sad Beautiful Tragic.

But where that growth reinvigorated the reminiscing cuts on ‘Fearless,’ there’s something about her delivery here, and the record’s slick polish, that feels too self-aware and less appropriate. Reputedly informed by the singer’s split from actor Jake Gyllenhaal, ‘Red’ was the product of a unique collision between an artist coming into her own, mind exploding with creative possibilities as she no longer felt handcuffed to the country genre she never really belonged in, and life-changing heartache.  

The intervening years seem to have created a fondness, and different perspective, towards this material that wasn’t present when that inspiration and upheaval was erupting out of her. Even though the songs weren’t as well sung, the fittingly naive and spontaneous, almost desperate, need to express herself in that exact moment, in that exact way, can’t be recreated a decade later.

That said, were you to hear this ‘Red’ without having consumed the original, you’d still be bowled over by the quality of 16 sprawling tracks that, having aged very well, showcase the perfect union between her singer-songwriter heartbeat and pop-smart brain. As does a wonderful second disc of re-recorded vault out-takes and B-sides from the same sessions.  

Ignoring duds such as lightweight dance floor fodder Message In A Bottle and The Very First Night, not to mention the near criminal exclusion of The Moment I Knew, which depicts a key moment in tear-inducing detail, these unearthed jewels reveal an artist who was truly in the creative zone and sure of her vision.

Both a superb auteur’s version of Better Man, which she gave away to Little Big Town, and an exquisite, conversational duet with Phoebe Bridgers called Nothing New, highlight how strong ‘Red’ was if songs of this calibre could be excluded. And then there’s the epic, meditative 10 minute version of All Too Well.  

Widely considered her greatest song, it's an eye-watering, goosebump-inducing tale of wondrous romance, devastating heartbreak and haunting nostalgia. This version might not be as sublimely paced and intense, but the extra lyrical detail, even if a tad bitter and broken, adds more insight to a compelling story that, much like the whole of this bountiful re-release, will make fascinating and enjoyable listening for anyone who didn’t star in Donnie Darko.

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