Taylor’s noteworthy heartbreak album got us in our feels all over again. It seems it did the same with the critics! Read below to see reviews of Red (Taylor’s Version).
First things first: Let’s skip to the ending. The long-lost 10-minute original version of “All Too Well” turns out to be even better than we were all hoping. Taylor Swift takes her own masterpiece, tears it all up, breaks it like a promise, shreds her tapestry, and rebuilds it into a new heartbreak epic, twice as long and twice as mad. Yes, you just heard Taylor sing the words “fuck the patriarchy.” Yes, you just heard extra verses about this guy meeting her dad and skipping her 21st birthday party. Yes, her greatest song just got greater. No, you’re not fine at all.
The best of the bunch is “Nothing New,” a welcome pairing of Swift and indie noble Phoebe Bridgers, whose delicate crooning imbues a subtle woe over the track’s acoustic guitar and light strings. The song, which hinges on the question “will you still want me when I’m nothing new” is brilliant in its double meaning — is it meant for Swift’s romantic partner, or her listeners and the music industry at large, known for chewing up and spitting out its ingenues?
Little Big Town’s hit cover of a few years back already established that Pearl Jam had some competition for who had the better “Better Man.” (OK, Pearl Jam wins it, but not by that huge a margin.) There’s solid country craftsmanship but also a palpable sense of real regret and sorrow here. And besides having the benefit of the true authorial voice, Swift also does LBT’s version one better by having both lap steel on the track and the London Contemporary Orchestra. (There are a lot of strings in these bonus tracks, mostly arranged by Bryce Dessner, getting some moonlighting gigs from his producer brother Aaron.) On “Fearless (Taylor’s Version),” it was easy to see that the outtakes got left on the cutting room floor because they weren’t quite A-grade. But in this case, you’d have to say “Better Man” got the shaft because Swift was already moving on from country sounds with “Red,” even though it took her officially announcing it circa “1989” for slow thinkers to get it. (Rating: 4/5)
The guitars are sharper and shinier. Swift’s voice is deeper. “We Are Never Getting Back Together” has a more dynamic bass line pulse. “I Knew You Were Trouble” (a track on which Swift experimented with dubstep and voice distortion for the first time) gets chucked through a slightly gnarlier EDM blender. She’s explained in the past how this – rumoured to be about her fling with Harry Styles – was her first “shame on me” song, because she saw “every red flag going up” and fell for the guy anyway. The silvery rattle of the military drum on “The Last Time”, her duet with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody, is frostier in its finality.
With its fair share of hits, it seemed the new rerecordings were going to garner a very wide audience of fans old and new, creating an unbelievable amount of anticipation for its release. Thankfully, the album lives up to that anticipation, expanding on its maturity and sound.
It’s been almost 10 years since the album first released, and it’s glorious to hear the voice of a more mature Swift with her subtle yet warmer tone. Her maturity radiates across the album in her voice and in the production of her songs. As a common theme across her rerecordings, it seems to improve her music drastically.
Red (Taylor’s Version) benefits from her sharper vocals and a polished use of instruments—just as Fearless (Taylor’s Version) did, and as will (presumably) the remaining re-recordings of albums before 2019’s Lover. It all brings an added clarity to her already sublime songs. But Red (TV) has markedly expanded the dizzying range of the initial track list, which now includes six new “from the vault” songs, Swift’s versions of “Better Man” and “Babe,” plus a long-awaited highlight, the 10-minute “All Too Well.”
The bonus material also foregrounds Swift’s ties to the country genre in ways that the original album minimized. Her version of “Better Man,” which Swift wrote for Little Big Town, bests that group’s chart-topping rendition; whereas the latter’s version sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of a well, Swift wisely goes for a more intimate, present approach. On “I Bet You Think About Me,” Swift’s vocal tone is complemented by Chris Stapleton’s soulful bluster. It’s among the best and most traditional country singles of Swift’s career, the kind of dressing-down of an ex that she does better than just about anyone: There’s a snide allusion to “your organic shoes” that’s maybe the most savage read she’s ever written.