Reviews by mars
Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) review: the genre-sweeping Swiftian classic glows up to new, unimagined highs (9/10)
“Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place,” Taylor Swift sings on her 2012 magnum opus, “All Too Well.” It’s the time of year when temperatures cool, the holiday season nears, and iced coffees are traded in for warm, maple lattes. There is something disenchanting yet soothing about this seasonal transition. It begins with feelings of resentment toward darkness encroaching earlier each day and culminates in excitement for what's to come. These feelings are perfectly encapsulated in the emotions of Red. Released in the fall of 2012, Red marked a stark turning point in Swift’s artistic evolution. Having cemented herself as a country superstar timidly dipping her toes into the pop music pond, Swift set her sights on creating a body of work that, while sonically incohesive, displayed her artistic and genre-spanning range.
Red, titled to reflect the emotions felt by Swift while writing the album, is a series of both beginnings and endings in retrospect. Lyrically, she tells stories of the intensity found in love, anger, hurt, and passion. She sings of a romance’s shortcomings before wrapping up the album’s standard version with “Begin Again,” a sign of hope for love to come. Both her songwriting craft and ear for arrangement shine across Red’s entirety through its openness. Musically, Red is a hodgepodge of genres, allowing Swift to diversify from her country roots. It introduced the singer-songwriter to the world of true pop and dubstep, partnering for the first time with producers Max Martin and Shellback on her first #1 single, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” She also navigates arena rock across the album but most notably on opener “State of Grace.” She even tries out some folk influences - if only we knew what was to come.
Nine years later, Taylor Swift re-recorded this career-shifting body of work to both take control of her masters and continue illustrating the importance of artists owning their art. Red (Taylor’s Version) (released November 12, 2021) is the second of a planned six victory laps for pop’s biggest star. Following the release of February’s Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift decided it’s officially Red season once again.
Red (Taylor’s Version) is a near-perfect recreation of its 2012 predecessor, a series of visual diary entries filled with dynamic imagery of romantic devastation and devotion. Red was the album a young Swift needed to craft in her early 20s - an experimental mosaic of raging feelings and messiness. Taylor’s Version includes a whopping 30 songs, including nine previously unreleased tracks “from the vault.” Written by Swift during the same sessions as those that made the original album’s final tracklist, the inclusion of the vault songs gives listeners the complete Red landscape.
Like its Taylor’s Version predecessor, Swift doesn’t shake things up too drastically here but instead gives these almost decade-old tracks a nice facelift. Production is much stronger and sharper than ever before, immediately heard in the electric guitars on “State of Grace.” On album highlight “Treacherous,” the instrumentation exudes such elegance as the softened production swells to its climax. “Holy Ground” and “22” tap deeper into the underlying synths that make both songs the crowd-pleasers they are while “Girl at Home” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” bring a 2021 edge to these nine-year-old tracks.
The element of the re-recording project most appealing to both casual and diehard fans will likely be the additional “from the vault” tracks Swift dove through her songwriting crypt to retrieve. Three of the ten tracks are blasts from Swift’s past: the 2012 charity single “Ronan” finds a home on Taylor’s Version in addition to both “Babe” and “Better Man,” written during the Red sessions and given to Little Big Town and Sugarland respectively. Both “Babe” and “Better Man” are Swiftified through enhanced production more in-line with Taylor’s sound.
“Nothing New” is an unexpected and much-welcomed collaboration between Swift and Phoebe Bridgers. With Aaron Dessner’s lo-fi production, the two smoothly tell of the growing pains of being a young woman, the hypocrisy in society’s expectations, and what it feels like when your newness wears off. “How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22,” Swift ponders on the song’s chorus. “Are we only buying time ‘til I lose your attention, and someone else lights up the room?” The double meaning here is clever - is Swift staying up late at night stressing over a romantic partner or the general public?
Nothing on Red (Taylor’s Version) was both more anticipated than the ten-minute version of “All Too Well.” Back in 2012, Swift revealed that the song was cut down from its original ten-minute length to fit on the album, but fans clamored for a glimpse of those remaining details. As if the original version isn’t heartwrenching enough, she goes for the jugular on the scathing full version. It holds more grief and rage than ever imagined, packing a punch like none other. Yet, with Jack Antonoff’s production touch, the ten-minute version becomes an ethereal dreamscape. Her best song somehow became even more of a masterpiece.
“And you were tossing me the car keys, “fuck the patriarchy” / Key chain on the ground, we were always skipping town / And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now, he’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was ‘til we were dead and gone and buried.” Ouch. “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath,” she pours salt into an already deep wound. “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine, and that made me want to die.” Are you kidding me?!
Red was already one of Swift’s finest albums, but Taylor’s Version takes the album’s strengths to record highs. It’s no small feat for her to both advance creatively in her career while going back in time to recreate her early work (she’s released five albums in just over two years). On Red (Taylor’s Version), she manages to create not only newness out of something that’s been beloved for almost a decade but also excitement for what’s next on her path. In this case, on a Friday, we all watch it begin again.
Stream Red (Taylor's Version):
NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.