Album Review: Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)//Taylor Swift

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At a time when most Swifties across the UK and Europe are checking their emails for an Eras Tour code, Taylor Swift drops her ‘Taylor’s Version’ of a fan-favourite era, Speak Now. The original Speak Now was released in 2010 and written when Swift was eighteen to twenty years-old. The album resonates with her fan base, perfectly capturing the emotional themes of those late teen/early adult years. Swift herself said on Instagram, “I love this album because it tells a tale of growing up, flailing, flying, and crashing… and living to speak about it.”

Like Swift’s previous Taylor’s Version (re-recorded) albums, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) includes unreleased ‘From the Vault’ tracks. She adds six new tracks, plus ‘Ours’ and ‘Superman’ from the original deluxe album. With Speak Now being so treasured, the question is whether the additions risk spoiling the emotional flow of the original.

In some ways, the original Speak Now felt like a John Hughes movie or a John Green novel. The album contains breakup tracks in the form of the beautiful power ballad ‘ Back to December,’ about trying to make amends, and the country guitar-driven ballad ‘ Dear John,’ about an abusive relationship. There are love songs in the form of the pop-rock ballad ‘ Enchanted,’ the pop-rock powerhouse ‘ Haunted,’ and the gentle ‘ Last Kiss.’ Added to the mix is the mischievous storytelling of ‘ Speak Now,’ where Swift sings about interrupting a wedding. With lines like “her snotty little family all dressed in pastel” and “Wearing a gown shaped like a pastry,” this is Swift at her most playful.

Read More: Taylor Swift: Discography Ranked

The original Speak Now worked so well because it captured the exuberance of the late-teen Swift. Some of that fresh youthful innocence and vulnerability is lost in this reworking, which is not unexpected with a far more experienced thirty-three-year-old recreating the songs of her nineteen-year-old self. The change is more evident on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) than on the previous two album re-recordings. One of my favourite tracks, ‘ Mean,’ loses some of the vocal country twang, while reducing the fiddle in the mix is a disappointing reinterpretation of history. Similarly, the joyous teen comedic musings of ‘ Speak Now’ sound slightly more pastiche with Swift’s more mature vocals. On ‘ Better Than Revenge,’ the well-documented feminist lyrical revisions don’t fit as naturally with the beat. Is it necessary to rewrite lyrics that were representative of the culture of that era?

Elsewhere, Swift’s richer voice enhances ‘ Never Grow Up’; it now feels more like a song that was part of the folklore sessions, albeit with a simpler and more innocent style. Most of the tracks do sound close to the original version, and many, particularly the gorgeously shimmering ‘ Enchanted’ and ‘ Dear John,’ truly stand the test of time. These remain some of the finest love songs in the Swift musical canon.

What Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) does highlight is the talent of Swift the songwriter. It is incredible to consider the depth of storytelling, musical arrangements, and clever lyrics created by a then eighteen or nineteen-year-old. Lines like “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” (‘Mine’), “You, with your switching sides and your wildfire lies and your humiliation/You have pointed out my flaws again, as if I don’t already see them” (‘Mean’), and “And I lived in your chess game/But you change the rules every day” (‘Dear John’) act as early signposts to a career of brilliant lyrics.

The ‘From The Vault’ additions offer a fresh perspective on Swift’s work but no significant emotional depth to the album. The new songs include two collaborations. ‘ Electric Touch’ is a duet with Fall Out Boy frontman, Patrick Stump. A song about a first date, it bounces along as an upbeat sparkly pop number, fitting perfectly alongside the musical style of ‘ Long Live.’ The second collaboration, ‘ Castles Crumbling,’ is with Hayley Williams of Paramore. Lyrically, the track feels like a companion to ‘ Innocent,’ which Swift penned to help her heal from the Kanye West 2009 MTV Music Awards incident. The issue with this beautifully produced soaring song is that sonically it feels like it belongs on folklore, not Speak Now.

Unfortunately, ‘ I Can See You’ with its ‘ London Calling’-sounding intro neither feels like it belongs on the album nor is it a strong track. The heavy bass rhythm and unusual (for early Swift) sexual innuendo still make it a worthwhile listen. ‘ Foolish One,’ where the singer chastises herself for being a hopeless romantic, is at best an uninspiring filler.

‘ When Emma Falls In Love’ is a sweet piano-driven track that builds into a percussion-heavy powerhouse as Swift tells the story of envying someone else. The song showcases Swift’s early talent for a catchy tune and a good story. However, once again, the production lends itself more to folklore or evermore than Speak Now.

The final ‘vault’ song, ‘ Timeless,’ is a timeless reminder of the core DNA of a Swift track. The country origins are there, the storytelling, the guitar-led rhythm, the soaring chorus, and the switches. It makes sense that in 2010, the singer chose to leave out the track. Yet now, it fits perfectly as the more mature Swift revisits her earlier work.

For those new to the songs on Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), the collection is a stunning showcase of teenage angst and introspection. For longtime fans, the reimagining occasionally loses some of the rawness and vulnerability present in the original teenage vocals.

Despite the flaws, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a beautifully crafted and subtle reimagining of the original album. For the most part, Swift has achieved her core aim of taking back control of her own music while preserving the integrity of the original. It is natural that Swift’s growth as a singer would bring some nuanced changes to the emotional feel of the album.

In truth, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is another gift from one of the hardest-working people in music today. As millions pray for their chance to see Swift live, one lyric resonates powerfully from the Speak Now era: “The cynics were outraged, screaming, ‘This is absurd’/’Cause for a moment, a band of thieves in ripped jeans got to rule the world” (‘Long Live’).

Words by Andrew Butcher


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