“So dignified in your well-pressed suit. So strategised, all the eyes on you / Sashay away to your best seat / It’s the best seat, in the best room / Oh he’s so smug. Mr. ‘Always Wins’” sings Taylor Swift on ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) [From the Vault]’. Although the song was written over twelve years ago and fans typically associate the track with Swift’s ex, Joe Jonas, the lyrics also sound like a well-aimed dig at Scooter Braun—who Swift regards as responsible for the sale of the rights to her first six albums. Swift’s response to that act was to announce that she would re-record those albums, effectively devaluing the assets. In re-releasing Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift is making a point. She is taking back the control of her music, the narrative that defines her career. Is this a carbon copy of the 2008 release or does Fearless (Taylor’s Version) enhance her musical legacy?
The original Fearless has never been high on my ranking of Swift’s albums but remains such an important entry in her discography. It set on her course for the phenomenal success she has since enjoyed. The album highlights the early songwriting talent and sealed the emotional connection with her predominantly young audience as she captured teenage hopes and fears across the romantic themes. Swift has chosen to rerecord the tracks from the deluxe version of the original release supplemented with six previously unreleased songs ‘(From The Vault)’ plus ‘Today Was a Fairytale (Taylor’s Version)’—the original featuring on the soundtrack to the 2010 movie Valentine’s Day. This is now a twenty-six track opus.
Reimagining or rerecording?
On opener ‘Fearless’ we hear the familiar drum beat and guitar introduction and it is clear that this is no reimagining of her work. This is a true rerecording as Swift promised. If there are differences in the arrangement, they are subtle. But, there is a difference. The vocals have a greater richness to them and are less reedy sounding. The bass levels seem deeper. The listening experience has greater depth. Yet, Swift does manage to recreate the country ‘twang’ of the original recording.
Like the original album, the first seven tracks are the defining strength of the record. ‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ is as powerful as ever. The romantic fantasy tour de force that is ‘Love Story (Taylor’s Version)’ remains ageless—now fuelling TikTok dances, not 2008 karaoke singalongs. And, the maturer sounding Swift doesn’t detract from the pure bubble gum fun of ‘You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version)’. ‘Fifteen’ was always meant as a love letter from Swift to her younger self and on the rerecorded version the subtle changes in her voice enhance the poignancy in the messaging.
Except for ‘The Best Day (Taylor’s Version)’ where the imagery and breathy vocals remain as beautiful as ever, the remaining songs are mostly bland and forgettable by Swift’s high standards.
The ‘from the vault’ tracks
However, what this rerecording does bring is us is the six previously unreleased songs, all co-produced by Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff. We begin with ‘You All Over Me’; a song that fans speculate is about former love interest Joe Jonas. It’s a track that beautifully bridges the years between Fearless and folklore. The lyrics and the country styling of fiddles, rhythmic drum beats and weeping guitar chords fit perfectly into the Fearless era. Yet, the production and power in Swift’s vocals give it a folklorian tinge. As Swift sings “ So I lied, and I cried / And I watched a part of myself die / ‘Cause no amount of freedom gets you clean’ it feels like a prequel to 1989’s ‘Clean’ —a song about finally realising you have to let go—which includes the line “You’re still all over me.” The song is a perfect inclusion on the rerecorded album and one which strengthens it as a body of work.
The standout track of the new additions is the aforementioned ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine’. This song is a joyful reminder of the wit and playfulness in Swift break up songs. The puzzling aspect is why the song didn’t make the original cut. Even though the Dessner and Antonoff treatment may have enhanced the production, it is a belter of a catchy pop song with singalong lyrics, rapier-sharp observations and the classic Swift bridge/pause before bouncing into a rousing finale. A true Swift classic which even gives us the “Mr. Casually Cruel” lyric, which would later find a home in the masterpiece that is ‘All Too Well’.
‘We Were Happy’ features backing from Keith Urban, in a track that switches between a gentle country ballad and a powerhouse chorus. Once again the production is stunning but the song is largely forgettable. Keith Urban steps up to a full duet role on ‘That’s When’ and his involvement lifts the song from a standard country ballad. Again, the folklore-wash to the song gives an indication of why Swift saw fit to rerecord Fearless first.
‘Don’t You’ is an interesting one. Judged purely on lyrics and the core instrumentation it is a solid Swift ballad. However, the production is so strong that the pounding bassline and soaring electronic instrumentals make it feel out of place amongst the country theme. Style-wise it reminded me of ‘This Love’ and would feel more at home on the 1989 album.
The album closes with ‘Bye Bye Baby’. In this instance, it isn’t hard to see why the track didn’t make the original cut. The song sounds cute but lacks the lyrical and musical maturity demonstrated across the rest of the Fearless era.
Ultimately, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) does what Swift intended. It isn’t a rewrite of history, it is a reclaiming of history—her history. For existing Swift fans it should become their go-to version of the album, not least for the inclusion of three brilliant new songs and improved production. For everyone else, it should be the only version.
Words by Andrew Butcher
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