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Red Like We Never Knew: Taylor Swift Finishes the Story on Her Terms

Swift imbues the beloved autumn album with new life with tracks from the vault and an expanded "All Too Well"

Red Taylor's Version
Taylor Swift, photo by Beth Garrabrant
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    Think, for a moment, about the fall of 2012. Nearly a decade ago now, it feels remarkably far away — at least it does for this writer, who had just moved to Nashville and still sort of thought Taylor Swift would be super easy to bump into at Frothy Monkey or climbing the Percy Warner steps.

    2012 probably feels like a different time for Taylor Swift, too. This was only her fourth studio album, arriving off the heels of Speak Now, an album Swift approached with the intention of proving herself as a solo songwriter.

    Towards the beginning of Red’s assembly, Swift says that she was starting to feel too formulaic — her solution was found in surrounding herself with collaborators and musicians who could help her step outside of the box she was building. Now, it’s easy to look back and see where Red falls in Swift’s evolution. The country roots are there, but it’s a pop album at the end of the day.

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    There’s a special kind of joy that’s been surrounding the releases of Taylor’s Versions. It’s a mix of nostalgia and celebration, a reclamation of work and a reminder of how far Swift (and any of her listeners) have come. This release has felt like an event, one not felt too often in the music industry these days. There was no time other than late autumn that would’ve made sense for this drop — so grab your scarves, make some tea, and settle in for Red (Taylor’s Version).


    Everything Has Changed

    It’s important to remember that the point of Taylor’s Versions is for them to sound almost identical to the originals, providing a listening alternative rather than a remix or reinterpretation of a track. Taylor wants people to listen to Taylor’s Versions, after all.

    There’s a major exception here in the form of “Girl At Home,” which is reshaped and mixed in a completely new way. Not to read too much into things (it’s hard not to with Swift, though!), but perhaps it’s Taylor’s indication that she’s okay with letting the original go. This version is a step up for the b-side.

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    Red has aged fairly well overall, even some of the lighter fare. “22” will always be inescapable whenever certain birthday parties roll around, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is still catchy, and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” is explosive fun. “Begin Again,” a gentle standout then and now, suits Swift’s improved vocals best.

    That’s really the most noticeable difference otherwise — present-day Taylor stayed in her lower range for the vast majority of folklore and evermore and truly never sounded better. While many tracks on Red are much more dynamic, like the anthemic “State of Grace,” it’s clear that Swift’s vocal ability has grown in this past decade as much as her songwriting skills or poetic persona. On that note, “State of Grace (Acoustic)” is wonderful, and, not to get greedy when this mammoth collection has only just dropped, but…imagine “Treacherous (Acoustic Version).”

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