Red (Taylor’s Version) displays the snarky maturity and calm that comes from being a formerly precocious 22-year-old woman capable of juggling genres with ease. Take lyrics from “Treacherous”…
“And all we are is skin and bone
Trained to get along
Forever going with the flow
But you’re friction”
You’re forced to settle into the reality that a woman who only graduated high school a few years prior wrote this. Four albums into her career at that point, the heartache she endured—and whimpered softly about at times—was told through the lens of someone so severely wounded, so unsure if better days were to ever come. After a tumultuous partnership with someone nine years her senior, Swift wallowed in her sadness. She allowed herself to feel all her emotions at once for the benefit of those listening.
Last week, this album was dug up from the past and given another life. This time, by a woman with her chin raised; someone secure in womanhood and her abilities. She commands the room with laser-focused eyes. And this evolution is remarkable to witness.
Similar to Fearless (Taylor’s Version), we hear the development of her once chirpy, bird-like vocals. Particularly evident on ‘‘State of Grace” and “Starlight,” a sultry tone greets us home from the last time we heard it in 2012. Those whiny vocal riffs worked well for someone whose voice hadn’t matured yet. But as we’ve seen on folklore and evermore, Taylor Swift has found her niche in a haunting alto, deep-velvet style of singing. It’s impressive she didn’t opt to lower the key on any of the songs.
Throughout Red (2021) the development in production is the equivalent of coming home to a clean bedroom after a night out. Drums are tighter. Electric guitar riffs are almost tangible. You can hear acoustic strumming on tracks I didn’t even know had an acoustic guitar before.
So no, it’s not difficult relistening to an album that you already memorized the tiny crevasses of back in 2012. In fact, it’s welcoming. On the old record, many wonderful picking patterns and riffs are hidden under the jumble of sound. In Taylor’s Version, every note and every instrument gets to say their peace.
In terms of former singles, “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Red,” “22,” and “Everything Has Changed” sound borderline identical to their elders. Unlike ‘‘Girl at Home’’ which is so strikingly different from the original — in which I am transported into the nook of an underground dive bar, it’s past midnight and all I hear are ghost-dark synths and bass drums. The song is like a late addition to a Halloween club remix playlist. With an album already full to the brim with country acoustic guitar, this version is a breath of fresh air.
But it’s simply incomprehensible what’s going on in the chorus of ‘‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.’’ The “weee-eee!” squeals are too cartoonish. But it gets a pass because I didn’t even find them acceptable in the original. If you close your eyes the track doesn’t exist.
Back in 2018 Swift gave “Babe” to the country duo, Sugarland. And I held out my hands for crumbs given to me in form of Swift’s background vocals. But it’s her own song now on Taylor’s Version, and it truly does sound like a song that should have stayed with her. When her sweet voice rings out, “How could you do this, babe?” it simply resonates more.
Feature choices can be a huge hit or miss. Sometimes a shoot-for-the-stars collaboration will come along that simply shouldn’t have existed in the first place. This isn’t the case with any of the features on Red (Taylor’s Version).
Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol and Ed Sheeran were excellent selections in 2012, as they remain today. But of both Ed Sheeran collaborations, ‘‘Everything Has Changed’’ remains strongest. ‘‘Run’’ unfortunately falls flat to clichè lyric choices.
The addition of Phoebe Bridgers to ‘‘Nothing New’’ is tragically blissful. As compellingly different artists, they meet in the middle with surprising grace, singing soulfully about how quick people are to forget an aging woman.
Swift leaves a gaping hole within the fabric of ‘‘I Bet You Think About Me,” only for it to be filled by the soothing harmonies of Chris Stapleton. Their voices fold amongst each other like silk as the song broods cheekiness and sass. All while the internet has been collecting more dirt on Jake Gyllenhaal, the song is further proof that a man who “laughed at my dreams, rolled your eyes at my jokes” is a man that deserves nothing.
It pains me to say it but ‘‘The Very First Night’’ is simply not good. It’s not a terrible song, but it certainly doesn’t hold up to the standards of songwriting that Taylor Swift set for herself. The lyrics, “I wish I could fly / I’d pick you up and we’d go back in time” …repeat to the point of cringe on my end.
Despite its bumps, this is a solid album. With the long-awaited 10-minute version of “All Too Well” as proof, Swift has a captivating ability to dismiss cynicism and force you to feel your emotions whether you like it or not. Similar to taking a swim in the Dead Sea; the heavy salt content forbids you from keeping control of your own body. You try your hardest to plant your feet at the bottom of the seafloor — yet here you are floating in the water. That’s what it’s like listening to Red (Taylor’s Version). Regardless of how hard you try to stay stoic, you fall victim to Swift’s magnetism; dreamy, gut-wrenching lyrics thrown around almost casually. And yes, it is one huge blaring red flag when a person still won’t give her music a try.