Heartbreak ballad central: “Red (Taylor’s Version)” is “Sad Beautiful Tragic”

By Riley Dauber
Elm Staff Writer

On Nov. 10, Taylor Swift released “Red (Taylor’s Version).” The pop/country album was originally released in 2012, but due to legal issues with her prior record company, Swift decided to re-record her masters.

According to Raisa Bruner in an article for Time, “Big Machine sold to private-equity group Ithaca Holdings… [Scooter Braun] then sold her masters to another company…Swift’s master recordings reap profits whenever the songs are streamed or bought. So, anyone who hits play on an old version of Swift’s early songs right now will still pay into the bank of Braun.”

When this business move was made, Swift decided to re-record her six masters (“Taylor Swift,” “Fearless,” “Speak Now,” “Red,” “1989,” and “reputation”) so she can have complete creative control over them.

“Red” is known as Swift’s ultimate break-up album, dedicated to her love affair with actor Jake Gyllenhaal before the two broke up. Themes of heartbreak and growing up are present — a staple of Swift’s music — as well as moving on and learning to love another person; most evident in the album’s original closer, “Begin Again.”

Everyone’s favorite songs make a return on “Red (Taylor’s Version),” including radio hits like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “22,” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

But this time around, Swift has included vault tracks — songs that were originally written for the 2012 album but were cut. The vault tracks include the heartbreaking homage to four-year-old Ronan, a young boy who died of cancer, and Swift’s version of “Babe” and “Better Man.” Both songs were written by Swift but later sung by different artists. This time, fans get Swift’s versions of the songs.

The main stand out of the album are Swift’s mature vocals and lower register. They make more heartbreaking tracks like “I Almost Do” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic” stand out more, almost as if current Swift is reflecting on the relationship and not just experiencing the emotions at the time of the breakup.

“The Last Time,” Swift’s duet with Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, is another amazing track on the album. The updated vocals mesh together well, with a pleading tone as the two realize the relationship may very well end.

“Begin Again” also benefits from Swift’s mature vocals, as she sings “I’ve been spending the last eight months/thinking all love ever does/is break and burn, and end.”

Following the original tracklist are the vault songs. Some were probably better off chopped from the original album, while others shine through. Swift’s vengeful “I Bet You Think About Me” is full of country influence, reminiscent of her earlier work. It destroys Gyllenhaal, leaving him with only the scarf he stole from his ex.

Swift’s duet with Phoebe Bridgers, “Nothing New,” is arguably the best vault track on the album. “Much more compelling is ‘Nothing New,’ a somber acoustic ballad squarely in the wheelhouse of guest star Phoebe Bridgers, which grapples with the music business’ famously fickle relationship to young women,” Olivia Horn, a reviewer at Pitchfork said.

The two singers — whose voices complement one another’s well — share their worries about growing out of the industry and losing their luster as new talent rises in Hollywood.

“How can a person know everything at 18, but nothing at 22?” the two sing. It is also important to note that the song is the first time another female artist had a verse on a Swift song — hopefully it is not the last.

The biggest criticism of “Red (Taylor’s Version)” has and always will be the clunky tracklist. Meant to represent the ups and downs of a rocky relationship, upbeat dance songs are followed by emotional ballads. Some may argue it helps highlight the rollercoaster-esque feeling of a relationship, but it comes off as confusing. How is a person supposed to listen to “All Too Well” and then dance to “22” right afterwards?

There are other issues with the album as well. There are one too many Ed Sheeran collaborations, what with “Everything Has Changed” and new vault track “Run.” Songs like “Stay Stay Stay” and “Starlight” are either sickly sweet or forgettable with the 130 minute runtime of the album.

Then there is “All Too Well,” referred to as Swift’s magnum opus. The song, originally five minutes, is the breakup ballad about her relationship with Gyllenhaal. In the five-minute version of the song, Swift sings of lost scarves, drives upstate, and dances in the kitchen. Each detail paints a beautiful picture of a relationship turned sour.

With the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version),” Swift decided to end the album with the 10 minute version of “All Too Well,” with previously deleted verses. Some sections fit in seamlessly, like “You kept me like a secret but I kept you like an oath.” Others, like verse six, seem very out of place. Even with a song like “All Too Well,” sometimes less is more.

Horn writes, “Red,” often lauded as Swift’s best album, is not perfect; it contains some of her great masterpieces, but also some duds.”

“Red (Taylor’s Version)” has its technical issues, but also possesses some of Swift’s best songs. So, while the album’s highs are high, the lows are also very low.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Featured Photo Caption: Taylor Swift began re-recording her first six albums music manager Scooter Braun purchased the masters June 2019.

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