“Who is Taylor Swift anyway? Ew” was a spoken line on ’22’ on the Red album. If anyone didn’t know who Taylor Swift was in 2012, within two years that would all change with the release of 1989. 1989 was a monumental album. This was the record which confirmed Swift as a true pop artist. It spawned seven hit singles and secured the Album of the Year Grammy. It’s little wonder that it is the most anticipated re-recording of the Taylor’s Versions project. The fourth album to receive the treatment,1989 will always be the biggest.
When you are re-recording an album that sits alongside other pop masterpieces such as Michael Jackson’s thriller, there is a risk that the re-working will lose some of its shine. It is impossible to recreate the goosebumps that we all felt the first time we heard the opening synth crashes of Welcome To New York. The good news is that 1989 (Taylor’s Version) doesn’t lose the essence of the original album.
With the absence of Max Martin, there was a real risk that the lack of the legendary Swedish producer’s input would lead to the record losing some of its edge. Yet, the mega hits are all here: ‘Blank Space’, ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Wildest Dreams’, ‘Shake It Off’, and any production changes are subtle. Only on the heavy synth-pop tracks of ‘Style’ and ‘New Romantics’ does the sound seem to lose some of the sparkle of the Max Martin original – they feel flatter. Overall, the production team of Christopher Rowe, Jack Antonoff and Swift herself have done a fine job.
The most noticeable changes in 1989 (Taylor’s Version) are in the vocals. Unlike, with Speak Now or Fearless, only nine years have passed, but Swift’s voice has still matured. The impact is less noticeable than on those earlier tracks but rich, maturity in Swift’s delivery does soften the emotional impact of ‘Blank Space’.
Arguably, the subtle production and vocal changes on other tracks lift the entire album. ‘This Love’ and ‘You Are In Love’ benefit from the rich, controlled vocal style that Swift has developed. ‘Clean’, particularly benefits, with the production mix highlighting more of Imogen Heap’s backing vocals, so it feels like a true collaboration. Some tracks, such as ‘Bad Blood’, now feel a little dated – echoes of a pop synth era, but these ballads are timeless. ‘Clean’ stands out as the 1989 Taylor’s Version gem – the bass feels heavier, the vocal tone so soothing and rich.
The sonic subtle enhancements to some of the tracks that weren’t previously singles are more noticeable on 1989 Taylor’s Version than any of the previous three re-recordings. The influence of Antonoff is particularly evident on ‘Out of the Woods’. In addition to heavier baselines, there are more sonic flourishes that add to the interest on the track and breathes fresh life into the song whilst remaining true to the original.
Overall, the reworkings of the original deluxe album add even more balance to what was already a perfect pop album. There is no need to tap your EarPods when listening to 1989 (Taylor’s Version). There is not a dud track on this entire magnificent album and, for once, that extends to the new additions.
The excitement around the Taylor’s (Version releases) is always around the extra (From The Vault) tracks. Previously we have seen a very mixed bag of from the vault tracks, albeit with some new collaborations. Here, there are five new songs and none are duets.
The Vault tracks on 1989 (Taylor’s Version) seamlessly blend with the closing tracks from the core 1989 album but are clearly influenced by the production style of the 2022 Midnights album. In some ways, this is unsurprising given the Antonoff collaboration, but it is more surprising that the tracks do work well within the updated 1989 (Taylor’s Version).
The Vault section begins with ‘“Slut!”’. It’s not hard to see why 2014 Swift left a track with this title on the cutting room floor, but we are now dealing with a grown-up and far more confident artist. Surprisingly, given the title, this is the most understated of the new songs. A shimmering synth-pop ballad with breathy vocal delivery, the lyrics are adorned with mood-lighting references, “Tangerine neon light” and “Flamingo Pink”, which set the scene for an intimate rendezvous. The song feels like a more sexual predecessor to Midnight’s ‘Mastermind’.
Speaking of ‘Mastermind’, sonically, ‘Suburban Legends’ sounds like the sibling of that 2022 track. The lyrics “I broke my own heart because you were too polite to do it”, describe a high school romance recalled through a high school reunion. This would feel more at home on an earlier Swift album but the production makes it a perfect fit for this album.
The standout Vault track is the short and punchy ‘Now That We Don’t Talk’. Sung to a steady disco-beat, this track manages to convey the smokey late-night club feel of Midnights and blend it with the synth sounds of 1989. A classic post-break-up reflection, the song lacks the cleverness of recent Swift lyrics, but bounces along with a catchy rhythm and falsetto vocals on the chorus.
‘Say Don’t Go’, is a collaboration with veteran power ballad writer Diane Warren. The song is sonically dark and brooding before it rises to a cacophony of percussive crashes on the soaring chorus. Despite the relatively naive lyrics, the soundscape is far more complex than anything on 1989 (Taylor’s Version) (save for the re-worked ‘Out of the Woods’). Apart from the overt pop sensibilities of the chorus, this feels like another lost track from Midnights.
The final new track that ends the album, is ‘Is it Over Now?’. A real powerhouse of a song, this describes the dark emotional hangovers from a broken relationship. With a percussive soundscape, it conjures a slightly more subdued morning reflection of ‘Out of the Woods’. The lyrics are dark and reflective: “I think about jumping off very tall somethings just to see you come running”, and about clinging to the hope that all is not lost, “I was hoping you would be there and say the one thing I’m wanting, but no”
Whether the new tracks deserved inclusion on the original version of 1989 is a moot point. One thing is for sure, history demonstrates that Swift rarely makes a wrong call. In 2023, it is unlikely there is anyone asking the question, ”Who is Taylor Swift anyway?”. As for whether this re-recording does justice to the original, the answer is a resounding yes.
1989 has barely been off my personal playlist in nine years. Listening to 1989 (Taylor’s Version), the new tracks are not just an interesting bonus but add real extra depth. The greatest pop album of all time just got better. As Swift sings, “We found Wonderland, you and I got lost in it.”
Words by Andrew Butcher
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