Taylor Swift's new 'Red' is a fan feast of 30 sensitive, angry and transformative songs
Taylor Swift doesn’t do anything without purpose.
Is she rereleasing “Red,” her fourth album that initially landed in 2012 in 2021 because of the numerical inverse?
Did she make the announcement about “Red (Taylor’s Version)” arrival exactly 22 weeks in advance in reference to one of the album’s hits, “22”?
Did she then bump up the release from Nov. 19 to Friday to avoid the likely Adele stampede next week?
No doubt devoted Swifties will analyze every considered move – it’s a sport both Swift and her fans delight in – just as they will parse every nuance and dissect the lyrical content in the additions to “Red.”
But let’s never forget the reason for “Taylor’s Version” of “Red,” which follows the April release of of “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)”: she’s reclaiming her artistic ownership and holding to her promise of rerecording her first six albums following the acrimonious sale of her original master recordings.
And she proves again that she’s won.
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The original 16 tracks from “Red” – and a few more from the album’s “Deluxe Version” – are meticulously reproduced. The drums might be sharper in “I Knew You Were Trouble” and the guitars brush with more prominence and clarity in “22,” but these technical improvements don’t diminish the spirit of the 2012 edition. As well, Swift’s voice has, naturally, gained muscularity and confidence with age, but its evolution is never a distraction.
She still hits the higher range at the end of “Everything Has Changed,” her soft duet with Ed Sheeran, and nails the giggle and “it’s so fun!” proclamation that wraps “Stay Stay Stay.” Those who may have forgotten one of the album’s prettiest songs, “The Last Time,” with Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody, are also reminded of its hushed beauty.
More importantly, “Red (Taylor’s Version),” reiterates how the album transformed Swift’s career from country ingénue to striking pop star, the blast of drums on the opening “State of Grace” and Swedish-pop polish from Max Martin and Shellback on “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” prime entry points for her then-new direction.
But the bigger occasion to celebrate this version of “Red” is the addition of 10 tracks, including a lyrically rich 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” With a full running time of two hours and 11 minutes, the album is a feast for fans and an intriguing study of Swift’s lyrical deftness, even a decade ago.
'Red (Taylor's Version)' highlights
Recorded in 2012 as a charity single for a Stand Up to Cancer telethon, the wrenching ballad was written for Ronan Thompson, a little boy who died of neuroblastoma in 2011, just shy of his fourth birthday. Having received permission to rerecord the song from Ronan’s mom, Maya, whom Swift credits as a co-writer for taking lyrical inspiration from her blog posts about her sick child, Swift bares her sensitivity. “You were my best four years,” she sings over gentle guitar and piano, a gut punch even for those without parental leanings.
Swift is joined by Phoebe Bridgers, who shares lead vocals. Though also from the 2012 vaults, the song’s rustic leanings and production by Swift pal Aaron Dessner of The National provide a vibe closer to her current output (“Folklore” and “Evermore”). But even almost a decade ago, Swift’s self-awareness was on point as she mused about being discarded after the sheen faded. “How did I go from growing up to breaking down?” she wonders. And then, “How can a person know everything at 18 but nothing at 22? And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?”
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Both songs were hits for other artists – Little Big Town in 2016 and Sugarland in 2018, respectively – but hearing them in the author’s hands gives them additional heft.
'Message in a Bottle'
No, it’s not a cover of The Police classic (though wouldn’t that be fun?), but a pop banger from Max Martin and Shellback. Irresistibly glossy, it would have made an exuberant addition to Swift’s live shows.
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'I Bet You Think About Me'
Though Chris Stapleton is the draw on paper – and no doubt his whiskey-hued vocals are the beautiful sandpaper to Swift’s sleek voice – the tune should be remembered for some of Swift’s snarkiest lyrics. Speculation abounded that the original “Red,” so steeped in heartbreak and anger, was written primarily about a Swift paramour at the time (hi, Jake Gyllenhaal) and here, she doesn’t leave much doubt. “I bet you think about me when you’re out/At your cool indie music concerts every week/I bet you think about me in your house/With your organic shoes and your million dollar couch/I bet you think about me when you say “oh my God/She’s insane, she wrote a song about me.” Meow.
Another pairing with dear friend Sheeran, the duo’s lovely harmonizing – complemented by the London Contemporary Orchestra – sounds effortless, just two like-minded artists feeding off each other’s musical strengths.
'All Too Well'
This 10-minute version, produced by frequent Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff, lopes through encyclopedic lyrics that both bite and wound in their honesty and pain. “And you call me up again/Just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest/I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here/Cause I remember it all, all, all/They say all’s well that ends well/But I’m in a new hell every time/You double-cross my mind.”