An exercise in catharsis...

Listening to Taylor Swift’s new album ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ is, Clash imagines, the same feeling that parents get when reading books they first read as children to their own offspring. Familiar, comforting but at the same time, tinged with a little sadness now that you're grown up and life isn't as simple as it once seemed.

Swift wrote in journals accompanying 2019’s album ‘Lover’ that vault song ‘Nothing New’ (featuring Phoebe Bridgers) encapsulates the feeling of being scared of aging and things changing and losing what you have. No wonder Bridgers was close to tears recording her part; getting older is scary. At the lower end of her vocal range, Swift croons: “How can a person know everything at 18, but nothing at 22?”, mirroring the sentiment of another vault song, ‘Winter Sun’ where emotions feel all consuming but you’re, “Too young to know it gets better”.

As adult listeners, we all know that love isn't as dramatic as that 'Red' passion, that Swift describes as "driving a new Maserati down a dead end street". Instead, it's doing the dishes before you're asked to, and cosying up on the settee in comfortable silence at the end of a long hard week.

Now, rather than dressing up like hipsters with your girlfriends to make fun of your exes a la ‘22’, you like each others' Instagram photos and try and fail to find a date in your diary that works for you all to have brunch, ad nauseum. Taylor Swift has bottled the better times and then pressed them onto four vinyl LPs that will get adults everywhere thinking about how Everything Has Changed.  

While ‘Red’ was originally a high-energy release about the emotional extremes of young adulthood, the additional ‘vault’ tracks are more understated and reflective in nature. One such song, ‘Run’, was written prior to ‘Everything Has Changed’ with Ed Sheeran – a long-time friend of the American starlet – on the very first day they met. It’s a slow, gentle track about the youthful tendency to make your person your world.

With the new additions, the album is a medley of genres. With an electronic soundscape and pulsing beat evocative of Swift’s 2014 album ‘1989’, the Carly Rae-Jepsen-esque offering, ‘Message In A Bottle’ is about standing on the precipice of a new romance, aware of a mutual attraction. Equally poppy is ‘The Very First Night’. In contrast, ‘I Bet You Think About Me’ featuring Chris Stapleton is a ballad about insecurity, with the instrumental harking back to the singer’s country roots with the harmonica.

Following two years of tremendous global loss – and the gain of two new albums by Swift alongside another re-record, of ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ – it’s hard not to need a box of tissues at the ready for ‘Ronan’. First of the songs ‘from the vault’, ‘Ronan’ is a response to Finding New Meaning In The Loss Of A Son, a blog set up by Maya Thompson chronicling her son Ronan’s battle with cancer, in the run up to his tragic death.

Tackling another kind of loss, vault track ‘Better Man’ is for anyone who has ever endured abuse or escaped from a toxic relationship; it explores the complex feeling of missing someone who treated you poorly. It’s thematically similar to ‘Babe’, which fans believe is about Swift’s relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, a largely unremarkable song about betrayal.

All the vault songs, however, pale in comparison to the epic ten-minute version of fan-favourite ‘All Too Well’ which concludes our emotional marathon. This character assasination of the 40-year-old actor will go down in history as one of the best breakup songs ever written.

You're in line at the supermarket when you see them, three aisles down. Your breath catches in your throat, it’s like you’ve been punched in the gut. They look the same, a little softer around the edges, perhaps, but time does that; they're not 22 anymore, and neither are you. You walk to your car, autumn leaves crunching underfoot as you comb back through all the memories. As you breathe in the cold winter air you remember it, all too well.

While some see Taylor Swift’s re-recording efforts as a statement of female empowerment, triumphing over those who have wronged her, really it’s much simpler than that. As ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’ shows, this is an exercise in catharsis. Leafing back through the storybook of our own formative years, we feel it all.

9/10

Words: Beth Kirkbride

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