Taylor Swift reclaims her magnum opus with ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’
John Clark | Monday, November 15, 2021
“Red,” in my humble opinion, was Taylor Swift’s magnum opus. The album was originally released at a critical point in my life, and one of my fondest memories is going to see Swift perform it on tour just a few weeks after burying my father. That concert brought me joy at a time when I really needed it. Nine years later, “Red”’s lofty position as the crowning jewel of Taylor Swift’s discography now belongs to “Red (Taylor’s Version).” Swift took me by surprise in the direction she took in differentiating “Red (TV)” from the original album. A lot of the discourse on the differences between the two versions of “Fearless” focused on the differences in Swift’s voice over the past 13 years. That framework of comparison isn’t quite as applicable for “Red (TV),” as the changes in Swift’s voice over the past 9 years haven’t been quite as dramatic. This places the onus of differentiation on other components of the music, which I have found much more interesting to explore.
I have listened to the original “Red” countless times, as I imagine most Taylor Swift fans have. Most folks who have an intimate familiarity with original album will immediately notice many of the differences between the two releases. In fact, these differences begin with the opening seconds of “State of Grace,” during which their iconic pounding drums take on a substantially different tone. Even so, the composition, structure, lyrics and instrumental ensemble of these songs are all identical to those from the original album.
The locus of the transformation of this collection of songs into “Taylor’s Version” lays outside of that. Indeed, Swift reclaims her work in the slight changes to the tenors and tones of the sounds that define the album’s musical aesthetic. Her voice still plays a role in that, but not as significantly as it did with “Fearless (TV).” At times, there are fuzzier electric guitars; the lead guitar line in the intro to “State of Grace,” for instance, sounds more unruly than the crisp and controlled tone that defined the original version. The acoustic guitars in ballads like “I Almost Do” and emotional centerpiece “All Too Well” also sound warmer.
Intimacy has always been what makes Taylor Swift most special. She pours her heart out on every album and arguably treasures her relationship with her fans more than any other pop star. Swift’s musical evolution over the course of her first four albums was defined by growth of her sound into something that would fill stadiums while still maintaining some of the intimacy that makes her music special. On the original “Red,” that evolution was completed, which is probably why she chose to rip everything up and start again on “1989.” In reclaiming “Red” as her own, Swift chose to differentiate it by optimizing the intimacy that defines her as an artist while preserving the grandeur of the original album. It’s the best thing she’s given us yet.
The “From The Vault” tracks are, as expected, not just outtakes that weren’t good enough to make it onto the album proper. Instead, it’s clear that these songs didn’t make it on the album for a variety of reasons, this demonstrating the thoughtfulness Swift puts into crafting her albums. As it is, the album proper (Vault songs not included) is sprawling, but it somehow manages to remain cohesive (though this isn’t necessarily a virtue). Some of the Vault tracks skew stylistically more toward the aesthetic of “Speak Now,” and would have muddied the uniformity of “Red.” It’s also clear that Swift wanted to avoid redundancy in emotional beats on the album proper. With that being said, the songs here are great and a welcome additions to the core masterpiece of “Red (TV).”
Album: Red (Taylor’s Version)
Artist: Taylor Swift
Favorite Tracks: “State of Grace,” “Treacherous,” “Holy Ground,” “Forever Winter”
Fans will also like: Joni Mitchell, The Cure, Mitski, Neutral Milk Hotel
Shamrocks: 5 out of 5