The year is 2012, Taylor Swift has just released her pop/country crossover album ‘Red’, and Jake Gyllenhaal is public enemy no.1. The first release of the album was met with both critical and public acclaim, reflected in impressive record sales and chart positioning. Today nearly 10 years on, in what feels like a revival of my early teenage years, fans have been treated to “Taylor’s version” of Red.
Featuring 10 new tracks ‘from the vault’, along with re-recordings of the original album, Taylor’s version provides us with everything you could ask for from a pop album and so much more. Hearing the first seconds of the opening riff in ‘We are never getting back together’ along with anthems like ’22’ and ‘ I knew you were trouble’ instantly transports me straight back to 2012. The audible vocal improvement and sharper sound mirrors a sense of maturity in both performer and listener and lets us revel in the excitement in experiencing these tracks for the first time, all over again.
One of the most hard-hitting songs from the vault, particularly for a 20-year-old student, is ‘Nothing New’. Including Phoebe Bridgers as a featured artist, this collaboration was destined to be gloriously heartbreaking. It perfectly encapsulates the all too familiar feeling of growing up and realising the lightning rate at which time passes without our consent. In a possible reference to feeling “paralysed” by time in “All too well’, the lyric “It’s like I can feel time moving, how can a person know everything at eighteen but nothing at twenty-two” is bordering on a personal attack in a strangely reassuring way. This, combined with the lo-fi acoustic guitar/synth backing makes for the perfect comfort blanket for anyone clinging on to their ‘good old days’, wishing that they could slow down the clock.
If second-hand heartbreak is real, then I’m pretty sure it is no better expressed than in the lyrics of the 10-minute version of ‘All Too Well’ (Jake Gyllenhaal’s return to public enemy status pending). Fans will know that the original version depicts the emotions felt by Swift after the breakdown of a relationship in her early twenties. The original bridge “you call me up again just to break me like a promise, so casually cruel in the name of being honest” is already iconic for its depiction of a power-driven, emotionally abusive relationship. The 10-minute version, however, accompanied by its short film provides us with a near literal window into the reasons for its breakdown and aftermath. The short film features 19-year-old Sadie Sink as a young Taylor and 30-year-old Dylan O’Brien, the age gap here of course being reflective of real life. Lyrics like “you kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath” provides us with a deep cut into the feelings of imbalanced power in an age gap relationship like this one. The final kick comes towards the end of the track, in a line presumably written more recently when a swipe is made at the continuing youthfulness of Gyllenhaal’s partners “I get older, but your lovers stay my age”. It is clear that nothing has been held back in this recording of the song, and as listeners, we are all the better for it.
The re-recording and vault tracks of this album are without a doubt of resounding success. To release an album ten years on from its original, containing majority same songs, and still create such a positive reception is unbelievable in itself. The songs from the vault elevate an already brilliant album towards masterpiece status. Whichever way you look at it, Red (Taylors Version) has set the bar incredibly high for her next release, a bar I have a feeling may be met.