Taylor Swift released “Red (Taylor’s Version)” Friday as her second of six rerecorded albums, all part of Swift’s attempt to regain ownership of her work after the original masters were sold to music executive Scooter Braun. The “Red” rerecording features a whopping 30 songs, including 20 from the original deluxe version of “Red,” one former single — “Ronan,” two songs written by Swift but given to other artists — “Better Man” and “Babe,” six entirely new “(From the Vault)” tracks and one long-awaited extended version of fan favorite “All Too Well.”
Overall, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” is highly similar to the original in the best way possible. While the over-polished “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” at times diverges uncomfortably far from the youthful, rougher original, Swift’s voice and production values have not changed nearly as drastically between “Red” and now. The lightly polished and perfected “Red (Taylor’s Version)” stays true to the original, which, after all, is the primary intention of the rerecordings — to give fans an avenue to listen to the albums they love without benefiting the people that took the ownership of those albums from Swift.
But while “Red (Taylor’s Version)” is mostly faithful to “Red,” it also features a few welcome updates. Primary among these is Swift’s more mature vocals, which she balances with brighter tones in the more youthful songs such as “Stay Stay Stay” and “22” and also shine in the more mature tracks. The album showcases this immediately in its opener, “State of Grace (Taylor’s Version),” which features a sustained and well-supported high note far stronger than the original.
The duets also highlight Swift’s vocal maturation. Swift’s slightly deeper, fuller vocals harmonize even better next to Gary Lightbody’s rich and somber crooning on “The Last Time (feat. Gary Lightbody) (Taylor’s Version).” Both Swift and Ed Sheeran have vastly improved vocally since their original rendition of “Everything Has Changed,” making their harmonizing more smooth and stable in the new version.
There are, however, a few songs that have not fared as well in rerecording. The extended “we” that repeats in the chorus of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (Taylor’s Version)” sounds comically childish. “Ronan (Taylor’s Version)” lacks much of the emotion present in the original single, which was written based on a real mother’s loss of her son Ronan and intended to raise funds for cancer, making this version come across as hollow and unnecessary. But for the most part, “Taylor’s Version” of familiar “Red” songs keeps them comfortably familiar, even rendering them a little better than the originals.
The “(From The Vault)” songs are largely just as successful, with some exceptions. Additions “The Very First Night (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” and “Forever Winter (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” are both fairly forgettable. Other additions are enjoyable, but not a perfect fit. The twangy, harmonica-rich “I Bet You Think About Me (feat. Chris Stapleton) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” sounds like the sister of “Betty” from Swift’s recent release “folklore,” and would have fit better sonically next to it on that album than it does on “Red (Taylor’s Version).” Swift’s light vocals on “Babe (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” don’t fit the cheated-on rage of the lyrics as well as Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles’ strong twang in her version of the song, which was recorded after Swift offered it to Sugarland during the “Red” era.
But soft features “Run (feat. Ed Sheeran) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” and “Nothing New (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” showcase their features’ vocals beautifully alongside Swift. The poppy “Message in a Bottle (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” sounds closer to 1989-era production but is nonetheless a very catchy, refreshingly upbeat bonus track. “Better Man (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” surpasses Little Big Town’s original, more country-leaning recording of the song with Swift’s more dramatic instrumentals and country-pop vocals.
None of the new songs, however, were as highly anticipated by fans as “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” the clear star of Swift’s second rerecorded album. While the original “All Too Well” is a masterclass in poetic songwriting, expressing longing, heartbreak and nostalgia without ever being too specific, the 10-minute version is a visceral, raw, deeply personal masterpiece. With lyrics like “You kept me like a secret / But I kept you like an oath” and “I was never good at telling jokes / But the punchline goes / ‘I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age,’” Swift paints a startlingly clear picture of a brutal whirlwind relationship — all-but-confirmed to be her relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal.
This new, extended version features substantially poppier backing music than the original, which relies mostly on a stripped-down guitar chord progression. The original backing is beautiful in its simplicity and gradual build-up, and still available for listening in “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version).” But the extended version’s additional lyrics vary rhythmically from the original and seem to work better with a heavier, poppier production that enables more sonic variation — best executed in the ethereal outro filled with subtle wind instruments and a slow, echoey drumbeat.
“Red (Taylor’s Version)” is a resounding success, both in its subtle perfections of the original album and in its largely successful additions. Although, even if all of these elements had failed, the masterful and long-awaited “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” would have been sufficient on its own to merit this rerecording.