A few months after Taylor Swift’s first re-recorded album Fearless Taylor’s Version, the global superstar announced that her fourth studio album Red would be the next one fans could anticipate. With no lead singles and the 30-song tracklist revealed via social media, the hype around Red Taylor’s Version grew and grew until its official release on November 12th, 2021.
Red, originally released in 2012, is a fan favorite in Swift’s catalog. Not only that, but many respected outlets and critics deem it her best. The album gave the world the infamous “All Too Well” and it was a jump for Swift sonically; throughout the LP she straddles between country and pop and even mixes in outside influences like EDM and rock. Red is an incredible exhibition about love in your early 20s and the rollercoaster of emotions felt so intensely at a young age. And Swift truly captures that messy yet exhilarating feeling like no one else.
Just like the original, Red (Taylor’s Version) opens with the epic “State Of Grace (Taylor’s Version.” The busy percussion sounds make this the epitome of a perfect initiation. It’s busy, it’s upbeat, and Swift gets to show off her vocal range in the massive chorus that explodes with each note. “State Of Grace” has also coined some of Swift’s genius one-liners like, “just twin fire signs, four blue eyes,” “these are the hands of fate, you’re my Achilles heel,” and “mosaic broken hearts.” The pace of the album is continued with the title track “Red (Taylor’s Version) which incorporates acoustic banjo paired with electronic vocal autotune in the chorus.
One thing that Red manages to do so well is keeping listeners on their toes. In a note to fans on social media, Swift shared, “Musically and lyrically, Red resembled a heartbroken person. It was all over the place, a fractured mosaic of feelings that somehow all fit together in the end.” Those words sum up the entirety of the middle section on the record. From the perfect pop party anthem “22” to the misty and desperate “I Almost Do,” Swift takes her audience on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Her lyrics and vocals are the highlights as she ties each song together with painstakingly, emotive vocal performances.
One re-recording that stands out from the rest is “Begin Again:” the closer on the standard version from almost a decade ago. Despite most of Red circling around heartbreak and feeling disoriented, “Begin Again” has a delicate hopefulness told through Swift’s soft voice surrounded by a rush of acoustic guitars and subtle twangy instrumentation. The re-vamped version has noticeable heaven-sent harmonies brought to the forefront with a fuller production; its absolutely breathtaking and the bridge still has the same power to produce chills as she sings, “And we walked down the block, to my car / And I almost brought him up / But you start to talk about the movies / That your family watches every single Christmas / And I want to talk about to talk about that / And for the first time, what’s past is past.”
“Girl At Home,” a song that people usually forget to mention when talking about Red got a complete makeover taking the once acoustic, dull number into an EDM-pop banger with an ‘80s pop feel reminiscent of Swift’s material from 1989.
As with the previous re-recording of Fearless, the vault tracks on Red (Taylor’s Version) feature collaborations. This time around she invited Chris Stapleton to sing backing vocals on the thoroughly country-sounding “I Bet you Think About Me,” and Ed Sheeran sings on “Run,” the very first song the two wrote together. She also worked with Grammy-nominated artist Phoebe Bridgers on the standout vault track “Nothing New” which comes across as a diary entry that captures dark, late-night thoughts about getting older. In the chorus their voices come together to exclaim, “I’ve had too much to drink tonight / How did I go from growing up to breaking down? / And I wake in the middle of the night / It’s like I can feel time moving / How can a person know everything at eighteen but nothing at twenty-two? / And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?”
What steals the show is the long-awaited and highly anticipated 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” The long version of the fan-favorite, acoustic hit has a dreamier sound with an all-embracing production that still maintains its intimate sadness that so many connect to. The added verses solidify Swift as one of the best songwriters of our time. During the second chorus, she adds, “And there we are again when nobody had to know / You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath / Sacred prayer and we’d swear / To remember it all too well.”
In verse three, she mentions breaking down in a bathroom at a party where “some actress” asked her what happened. Swift’s anger in her voice along with the evocative description feels as though we can watch this specific moment in time like a film that keeps our attention.
The most devastating part comes when she shares the lines, “You who charmed my dad with self-effacing jokes / Sipping coffee like you’re on a late-night show / But then he watched me watch the front door all night, willing you to come / And he said, ‘It’s supposed to be fun turning twenty-one.’” As the track inches towards the end, there are divine-sounding, choir-like, backing vocals that add a sort of haunting chill.
From start to finish, the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” is a graphic and illustrative memory pulled from one of the most painful moments in Swift’s life and that’s what makes it so special. The words feel like they’re meant to be screamed with tear-stained cheeks. Despite Swift being a global icon, the striking storytelling in “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)” puts us in her shoes, reminds us of people we know, and solicits the most genuine human emotion people experience: empathy.
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