Red (Taylor’s Version) is an epic time machine

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift
Photo: Beth Garrabrant

Taylor Swift’s atmospheric fourth album, 2012s Red, was a career-defining moment. It diversified Swift’s country pop roots to include solid experiments with dance, indie rock, electronic, and folk music. The results comprised a beautiful mess of genres and feelings, a roller coaster that saw the melancholic “I Almost Do” followed immediately by the snarky “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” As Swift notes in the message accompanying her re-recorded Red (Taylor’s Version), the album reflected a heartbroken person who was then all over the place, emotionally.

For fans who devoured the original album, Red (Taylor’s Version) operates as a profound time-travel machine of sorts, a throwback to their own growing pains. For new listeners, it’s a strong introduction to Swift’s prolific songwriting abilities. Her recipe is simple: She takes poignant personal anecdotes and connects them with hard-hitting, universal emotions. The album’s narrative thread embodies the intensity with which a younger Swift processed relationships, identity, and her place in the world—through her artistry.

It’s impressive to see Swift tackle the same music she wrote almost a decade (and five albums) ago without it feeling trite. Red was already an aching portrait of a doomed relationship, but the singer embraces it with renewed confidence now. It’s arguably indicative of how audiences will view their own bond with Red, and the growth from where they were when they first listened to it.

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 2019s 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 new numbers fit in tonally one way or another, like uptempo bops “Message In A Bottle” and “The Very First Night.” Her collaboration with Ed Sheeran on “Run” is very much in line with Red’s guitar ballad “Everything Has Changed,” although Sheeran’s vocals feel out of place on the latter’s re-recording. “I Bet You Think About Me,” which received a Blake Lively-directed music video, is the most country of all the songs, featuring Chris Stapleton, not to mention multiple burns for a former, high-class lover. And “Forever Winter” masks its foreboding message with a pleasing, rhythmic use of trumpets.

The most magnetic new arrival, however, is “Nothing New” featuring Phoebe Bridgers, where the two artists worry about losing their novelty over the years: “Are we only biding time / ‘til I lose your attention / And someone else lights up the room? / People love an ingénue.” Their voices are a divine combination: Bridgers is soft yet raspy, Swift keeps it soothingly low key. “Nothing New” is extremely relatable even if you’re not a globally recognized musician—who doesn’t fear being replaced at some point, whether in a job or in a relationship? Swift’s writing articulates that heightened anxiety.

The rest of Red (TV)’s pre-existing tracks get some worthwhile updates, such as Swift losing some of her country twang in “Holy Ground.” A notable reimagining takes place with “Girl At Home,” which goes from a ballad to proper pop in Swift’s new version. Luckily, it’s an interesting and fun interpretation of the song. Still, the entire album’s weight is cinched together on 30th and final track “All Too Well (10 Minute Version).” It’s a liberating, wrenching culmination of Red (Taylor’s Version) that anchors the album, er, all too well. (Swift surely knows the hold this song has over fans: It’s presumably why she also released a short “All Too Well”-related film starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien to literally depict the lyrics.)

Taylor Swift has clearly evolved since 2012. She’s delivered a tumultuous Reputation, mellifluous Lover, and two back-to-back triumphs in folklore and evermore just last year. While her re-recordings work as a smart business move to own her masters, they also work as a tribute to her journey so far. Red (Taylor’s Version) has a happy, free, lonely, and, yes, confused vibe; quoting “22” feels appropriate in this case—it doesn’t get old, it just gets an incredible upgrade.

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