Practically speaking, Red (Taylor’s Version) (★★★☆☆) comes in two distinct pieces. The bulk of it is a revisiting and reworking of tracks from 2012’s Red. It is, for the most part, a general improvement on a collection that was already a critical and commercial success on its release, although the differences between the new Red and the old are somewhat granular.
Similar as it is to the original, the rework provides a fresh take on themes that, in Swift’s hands, have a retrospective sort of timelessness. Her voice is a little deeper, a little heavier with the weight of life experience, putting the original songs in a new light while preserving their wry, feisty sense of humor.
The original version of Red was filled with a sense of fresh hurt and anger, with both fans and detractors latching onto its sense of wronged innocence. Having had some years to reflect, Swift brings less of that cathartic vindictive edge and more of a sober affirmation that yes, the way she was treated as wrong, and no, she still doesn’t miss the men who were the sources of that heartbreak.
For the most part, the album’s gems are to be found in the extras, a somewhat eclectic collection of “from the vault” tracks that any Swiftie is sure to appreciate. With “Babe,” Swift delivers a chill, downtempo country-lite version of a song that an astute listener will recognize as something originally cut from the final tracklist for Red and later graciously given to country duo Sugarland.
“Better Man,” which was similarly given away to Little Big Town, gets a similar treatment, allowing Swift another chance to dabble in her once-signature alt-country sound, which she gets another chance to indulge on “I Bet You Think About Me,” her prickly duet with Chris Stapleton.
As strong as most of these extra tracks are, the highlight of the album’s final act is “Nothing New,” Swift’s lo-fi duet with Phoebe Bridgers.
The song is plaintive and haunting, one of those quietly devastating in-your-feelings indie numbers that you put on in the middle of the night when the passage of time is weighing down. Swift and Bridgers have spoken candidly about being big fans of each other’s work, and the enthusiasm they bring to working together manifests as undeniable chemistry.
The collection seems set to end on a high note, but regrettably, it abruptly loses its momentum on its final track, a re-recording of one of her most acclaimed songs. “All Too Well” has long been held up as one of her strongest and most affecting songs and is a definite fan favorite, but this version is knocked off balance by its overindulgence and sheer length, clocking in at ten minutes of tortured post-breakup anguish.
The shorter version of “All Too Well” works so well (and holds up in its shorter 2021 version) in part because of the ruthless efficiency with which she eviscerated her ex, and this version suffers from being stretched out far past the point where it can maintain its fire.
It’s hard not to come away from the collection with the impression that Swift has revisited Red in mostly superficial ways. It’s the kind of self-referential project that would be branded as self-indulgent coming from an artist with a lower profile and a less-devoted fanbase.
Swift is long past the point of needing to justify her work to anyone, of course, and it would be hard to fault her for catering to her biggest fans, but it is hard to see who the rework is for aside from the most devoted Swifties. It would be a forgettable effort if not for its final act. The original material at the end, although it is presented as “extra,” is what ultimately makes this collection worth a listen.
Red (Taylor’s Version) is available to stream and purchase in digital and two-disc vinyl editions. Visit www.taylorswift.com. Follow Taylor Swift on Twitter at @taylorswift13.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!