Last year, Taylor Swift said “I’ve always said that the world is a different place for the heartbroken”. In October 2012, we were invited into that world with the release of Red. The album showed audiences a worldview that was hopeful, yet always tinged with a sadness that suggests all good things must come to an end. Red (Taylor’s Version) invites us back to that world a decade later. Any thoughts that the album would be any less powerful or marred by time are immediately quashed. The re-released album is an instant masterpiece.
Starting at the beginning with State of Grace, the opening percussion is crisper and gives the song a little more buoyancy than the original track. This extra attention to the details of the instrumentation is a common theme throughout the album. The added twang to the guitar on Red brings out the country influences in what was previously a very pop-centred song, providing a uniquely Swift-ian blend of the two genres. Meanwhile, on All Too Well the consistent drumbeats leading up to the last chorus builds anticipation so intensely that it is impossible for your heart not to skip a beat when it finally begins. Where the backing music of the original album feels at times generic, this time round it is well thought-out and would be an interesting listen without the lyrics.
As for Swift’s voice, naturally it has matured in the past 10 years. It has become richer and more capable of imbuing her lyrics with a deep sense of emotion. Of course, she has always been able to make incredibly moving music, but the maturity of her voice makes the lyrics feel more poignant. This is especially true on the slower songs, like Treacherous, where the full range of Swift’s voice is given time to shine. The song is taken from being reminiscent of a teenage crush to speaking of a person who has been burned too many times to risk falling in love again, yet is doing so anyway.
Equally, Swift’s voice works better on the collaborations now as well. On The Last Time, her and Gary Lightbody’s voices blend and weave together like threads in the same tapestry. Ed Sheeran’s equally matured voice complements Swift’s beautifully on Everything has Changed helped by a more pared-back instrumentation, allowing their harmonies to shine. Though there is nothing to compare I Bet You Think About Me to, Chris Stapleton’s voice brings out Swift’s southern accent a little more, helping the song stand out in the album. However, all these songs are outshined by Nothing New in which Swift’s voice melts so perfectly with Phoebe Bridgers’ that where they harmonise, it is sometimes impossible to tell where Swift’s voice ends and Bridgers’ begins.
Nothing New is the best of the “From the Vault” tracks, artfully highlighting the fading brightness of stars, or even women in general, as they age. It makes the listener sympathise with the character of the song far more so than The Lucky One as the inherent tragedy of the song can move even the most stoic to tears.
Finally, the true star of the album is All Too Well (10 Minute Version). Listening to the song is like watching the floodgates of someone’s soul burst open. The dams of heartbreak have cracked and everything Swift has held back for 10 years comes pouring out. The instrumentation is beautiful and evolves as the song does, like it is building the story on its own. There is an added distortion to the guitars that makes the song feel almost ethereal, while the introduction of the brass and extra backing vocals adds a layer that fits so perfectly. It is difficult to imagine the song without it.
There are also brief moments of silence which force the listener to think about the lyrics. Placed after some of the best lines, such as ‘it’s supposed to be fun, turning 21’, these silences are highly impactful. It becomes possible to listen to the track repeatedly and not get bored due to the raw emotion felt at these moments.
Ultimately, it is the raw emotion of the entire album that makes Red (Taylor’s Version) so powerful. It is an album almost everyone can relate to, regardless of if they are residents of the world of heartbreak or merely visiting, simply because everyone has felt intense emotion at some point in their lives and that is what Swift is encapsulating here. It is a masterpiece not because it is another album about love and heartache but because it is an album about what it means to feel something and be changed by what it is you feel.