Taylor’s Version is an unnecessary work, but one that remains fascinating in the way an older, more experienced Swift slightly reshapes these songs of innocence.
“I knew everything when I was young,” sang Taylor Swift on folklore, her magnificently mopey Grammy winner from 2020. Twelve years prior, she was singing about what it was like to be “Fifteen,” credulous about every admission of love, confident that every acute emotion would prove lasting and true. The wisdom of youth has been a recurring thread connecting her body of work, and her re-recorded version of Fearless provides an opportunity to put her thesis to the test: here she revisits songs of innocence from a more wisened and wounded perspective. She calls this collection Taylor’s Version, which doesn’t signify a fresh interpretive spin so much as a reclamation of ownership; the new Fearless gives Swift full autonomy over her masters while giving her fans new recordings that sound, for the most part, like painstaking recreations of the past. (If you casually listened to Fearless upon its release but haven’t revisited it in a while, you will be hard-pressed to identify even a single alteration to the arrangements, though connoisseurs will surely pick up on one or two.) What’s different is Taylor, her voice no longer quite so girlish, her metanarrative not quite so uncomplicated as it was in 2008. Hearing her sing these songs now— and they remain very sharp songs, confessional in their feel but canny in their construction, largely persuasive in their conjuring of young love and heartbreak— changes their intonation ever so slightly: Where once they carried a bittersweet tang, here they have a melancholy that feels more knowing, more lived-in, and more foregrounded.
At 26 songs and 106 minutes of music, the thing Taylor’s Version lacks is any semblance to an actual album; this is more like an era-specific retrospective playlist/data dump, assembling not just her careful recreations of the original tracks but all the bonus songs, soundtrack extras, and vaulted material she wrote during the same stage of her life. The unheard material is all worth hearing but, with the possible exception of the pungent “Mr. Perfectly Fine,” validates all the curatorial choices Taylor made back in 2008. Cameos from Maren Morris and Keith Urban are more interesting for their meta implications (Taylor is country again!) than their execution, and the more imperious presence is that of Aaron Dessner, Taylor’s folklore-era sherpa through refined melancholia. His production on the “vault” material adds just a misting of gray, making explicit what the rest of the album leaves unsaid: that there are some things lost and some things gained when songs of innocence become songs of experience. It seems unlikely that Taylor would ever again make an album as earnest or as unfettered as Fearless, yet there is something oddly moving in hearing her recall what it was like back when she knew everything.
Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 1.