Red (Taylor’s Version) feels very different than Fearless (Taylor’s Version), in the way that Taylor Swift’s fans — both casual and diehard — are approaching the releases. While the excitement around Fearless (Taylor’s Version) was palpable, anticipation for Red (Taylor’s Version) ahead of its release reached a deafening fever pitch, signaling one of the biggest releases of the fall — an amazing prospect for an album that’s primarily a re-recorded version of a past album.
After Swift announced her plans to re-record her first six studio albums, Fearless, the 2008 breakthrough LP, was the first one to be reimagined, resulting in a release that thrilled her longtime supporters and piqued the curiosity of onlookers. Fearless (Taylor’s Version) turned out to be a loving visit back to her old songs, as well as the unearthing of unreleased songs “From The Vault,” yielding one of the biggest album debuts of 2021 upon its April release.
But Red, her fourth full-length released in 2012, is different — an indispensable fan favorite, with songs so personal to Swift and crucial to unlocking her mass appeal that it’s hard to imagine her current artistry without it. Along with re-recorded versions of hits like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “Everything Has Changed,” Red (Taylor’s Version) boasts nine “From The Vault” tracks — including never-before-heard collaborations with Phoebe Bridgers, Chris Stapleton and Ed Sheeran, as well as a staggering, 10-minute version of album apex “All Too Well.”
The entire project is worth digging into, and all nine “From The Vault” songs are strong enough to have ended up on the original track list. Here’s our humble, preliminary ranking of those newly revived songs, from Taylor Swift’s second re-recorded album, Red (Taylor’s Version):
Co-written with Train’s Pat Monahan and eventually given to Sugarland (who received guest vocals from Swift on their version), Swift’s version of “Babe” offers levity on the Red (Taylor’s Version) track list, even in the context of a breakup song. Swift and Jack Antonoff produce a warm mix of keys, slide guitar and percussion, re-creating the glow of Swift’s turn-of-the-decade country-pop that rolls downhill as the lyrics look back on personal missteps.
8. Forever Winter
“Forever Winter” combines one of the more intricate productions of the “From The Vault” tracks with a nuanced, wide-ranging vocal take from Swift. She races through lines then lingers on syllables, and minimizes her voice to a whisper then blows out the chorus, as horns, flutes and guitars swirl around her voice. The concern cuts through it all: Swift sings toward someone she hasn’t been able to read, and grasps at ways to help him out of the dark.
7. The Very First Night
Dizzying memories of inadvertent love sparkle on “The Very First Night,” a piece of blissful bubblegum that sounds at home next to Red songs like “22” and “Stay Stay Stay.” As is often the case, the high points come from the lyrical details — Swift remembering casual words that end up meaning the world, and wishing she could go back in time to perfect the scene — but the danceable country-pop stomp is handy for those who simply want to move around to a starry-eyed anthem.
6. Run feat. Ed Sheeran
Although Ed Sheeran was featured on the Red single “Everything Has Changed,” Swift’s Folklore/Evermore era didn’t feature an assist from her fellow stadium-playing superstar. “Run” is a belated means of amending that, so to speak: although the song has been saved from the vault, Aaron Dessner’s co-production recalls Swift’s recent foray into indie-folk. And the rustic sound fits the duet pair nicely, a twiddling guitar lick and orchestral gestures popping up amongst breathless romantic gestures.
5. I Bet You Think About Me feat. Chris Stapleton
A few songs before the 10-minute kiss-off to end all kiss-offs on the track list, Swift gives us another not-so-fond farewell to an oblivious rich kid on “I Bet You Think About Me,” a free-wheeling and lushly produced jam alongside Chris Stapleton. One of Swift’s more subtle attributes as a performer is how funny she can be — even more so than Stapleton’s soulful vocal assists or the harmonica runs, Swift deadpanning lines like “The girl in your bed has a fine pedigree / And I’ll bet your friends tell you she’s better than me / HEH!” is the highlight here.
4. Better Man
The song that Swift sent to Little Big Town — and ultimately became a Hot Country Songs chart-topper for the quartet upon its 2016 release — finally receives a tender rendition from its songwriter, as Swift refracts the tale of post-breakup pain back through her own lens. The harmonies that made “Better Man” a Little Big Town standout are honored here, as Caitlin Evanson and Liz Huett provide backing vocals to Swift’s dashed dreams.
3. Message in a Bottle
Red was the first album in which Swift worked with Max Martin, and the pairing between the superstar and legendary producer resulted in smashes like “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Martin’s only credit in the “From The Vault” tracks here comes as a co-writer on “Message in a Bottle,” a compact, propulsive dance track that carries the same energy (and crackling charm) as the hits that pushed Swift’s sound toward mainstream pop leading into 2014’s 1989.
2. Nothing New feat. Phoebe Bridgers
Between Punisher, Folklore and Evermore, Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift offered some of the most incisive and affecting songwriting of 2020 — and while Swift is the sole scribe on “Nothing New,” the revived track works pristinely as a shared showcase for both artists’ lyrical sensibilities. Amidst understated cello and violin, Swift and Bridgers trade slicing lines and rhetorical questions about unfair social expectations on young women (“How did I go from growing up to breaking down?” is a knockout punch) before ruminating on a meeting with the next generation: “She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me / I’ll say I’m happy for her, then I’ll cry myself to sleep.”
1. All Too Well (10 Minute Version)
One can certainly pore over the lyrics — a profane keychain? A missed 21st birthday? Who was “some actress”?? — of this super-sized version of what was already a magnum opus on the Red track list, and rightfully so; Swift understands that her fans will simultaneously embrace and investigate every detail of one of her most famous breakup songs. Yet the 10-minute “All Too Well” deserves to be celebrated not just for the Easter eggs, but for the story that they comprise. Like the original version released nine years ago, this new “All Too Well” is a towering songwriting achievement, made even more impressive now as its tale of misbegotten love never flags or sounds overstuffed across its mammoth run time. The production hums along, each line pierces skin, and Swift is at her most commanding — she gives her most ardent supporters what they want by sharing her full, unvarnished truth.