“I’ve always said that the world is a different place for the heartbroken,” Taylor Swift wrote in June, when announcing the re-recorded version of her 2012 album, Red. “It moves on a different axis, at a different speed. Time skips backwards and forwards fleetingly.” Listening to these songs again, almost a decade later, proves Swift’s point. Two chords and – Zip-POW! – you’re transported back to the emotional landscape of 2012. For Swift, the re-recording process meant dialling back into the “fractured mosaic of feelings” she experienced at 20.
Red was the album on which the former country singer threw herself into the shimmering arms of pop. The cocktail of her emotionally raw, crisply crafted storytelling and formidable hooks was exhilarating. The album’s lead single, “We Are Never Getting Back Together”, was her first to be produced by Swedish pop wizard Max Martin and his partner Shellback. Swift called time on any vestiges of herself as a hopeless romantic to the ballsy wallop of big drums. A million teenage girls high fived the Swift posters on their bedroom walls as she blew off the ex who “would hide away” and find his peace of mind “with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine…” Because how many of us have dated a version of that guy?
As with her re-recording of Fearless, Swift hasn’t tinkered much here. If the matte crimson lipstick she wore in the original artwork represented its sound, then imagine it now with an added touch of lipgloss and liner – perhaps that shade brighter, the jawline beneath it more determined. 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.
The extras are a likeable rattle bag of nine tracks “from the vault”. There’s nothing to set the wider world on fire, but there are generous rewards for fans keen to stick it to Scooter Braun (with whom Swift has feuded over the rights to her back catalogue). They include a banjo-flecked version of the country sway-along “Better Man”, which she wrote for Little Big Town. There’s a lo-fi duet with Phoebe Bridgers called “Nothing New”, where their voices drop to cracked mutters as they nag away at the insecurities that come with age: “How can a person know everything at 18 and nothing at 22?” Outlaw country singer Chris Stapleton joins Swift for the gutsy duet, “I Bet You Think About Me”. The lyrics about a man with a “million-dollar couch” and “organic shoes” who attends “cool indie music concerts” seem to reference Swift’s ex, John Mayer. Even more so when she reaches the lyrical home run of: “When you say, ‘Oh my god, she’s insane, she wrote a song about me?’ I bet you think about me.” Ha! “Forever Winter” opens with a festive little blast of Sally Army brass before skidding into a slab of power pop. “Run” is a prettily turned acoustic duet with her pal Ed Sheeran that stars a classic Swiftian line: “There’s a heart on your sleeve/ I’ll take it when I leave”.
The album ends with a 10-minute version of the album’s best-loved song, “All Too Well”. Apparently about Swift’s relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s a slow, thudding swirl, with echoes of U2’s “With or Without You” in the insistent knock of its bass line. It’s a more feminist proposition now, with new lyrics about a “F*** The Patriarchy Key Chain”. She appears to share the confessional inside track: “You said if we had been closer in age, maybe it would have been fine/ And that made me want to die/ The idea you had of me, who was she?/ An ever-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you?/ Not weeping in the party bathroom, some actress asking me what happened/ YOU, that’s what happened/ You who charmed my dad with self-effacing jokes/ Sipping coffee like you were on a late night show…” Extended like this, “All Too Well” stretches out like a road before her, offering release and momentum.
This re-recording is a better, brighter version of a terrific pop album. Red is dead. Long live Red (Taylor's Version).
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