It’s been just over a week since Taylor Swift dropped the rerecorded version of her 3rd studio album: Speak Now. I (Jonathan) attended my roomie’s listening party and went to a drag celebration of the occasion. I’m not a Swiftie, but you wouldn’t know it from that itinerary. All that exposure has succeeded in warming me up to one of Taylor’s older albums (I generally prefer 1989 and later Tay-Tay). So, what did I think of this jaunt into her back catalog? Read on for my Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) album review.
Artist: Taylor Swift
Album: Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)
Overall Rating: 4.0/5.0
Let’s start out with a blanket statement: this is Taylor Swift’s most successful rerecording to date. Her vocals have depth and maturity. The instrumentation choices showcase her finely-honed ability to straddle the line between genres. And the fact that she’s doing this at all is pretty amazing. With the exception of greatest hits albums that get some touched-up tracks, no one else is doing full reimaginings of past records. The circumstances that prompted it are unfortunate, but Swift’s determination to control her musical destiny is certainly inspiring.
Moving into the songs themselves, let’s start with what was already there. Right out of the gate, “Mine” puts Taylor’s growth as an artist on full display. It is, in my opinion, the strongest redo on the album. “Sparks Fly”, “Back to December”, “Mean”, and “Enchanted” also sound great, but they were already some of the most beloved songs from the album. The least successful redo for me was the title track “Speak Now”–maybe the most diehard fans can hear a difference, but to my ears, it’s virtually identical. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The other oddity is the lyric change in the chorus of “Better than Revenge.” I liked the original version, but the new lyrics are a successful edit.
Now, let’s talk about the vault tracks. For the most part, I love them. “Electric Touch” is a feel-good gem, even if I don’t think Pete Wentz’s voice blends well with Taylor’s. “When Emma Falls in Love” and “Timeless” strike the same charming chords while “Foolish One” is yet another heartbreaking, entirely relatable lyrical gem in the grand tradition of such songs from Swift. On the other hand, we have “Castles Crumbling.” I am a long-time fan of Hayley Williams and was ecstatic to see this collaboration on the tracklist. But what a massive letdown. Taylor wrote a dull version of Paramore’s song “Brick by Boring Brick.” The thematic content is so similar that I can’t help but wonder if the latter inspired her. That misstep notwithstanding, the vault tracks are great additions to the album.
So, should you listen to Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)? If you’re a Swiftie, it’s a rhetorical question. For those of us who fall somewhere else on the spectrum of fandom, there’s still much to love. The classic lyricism and fusion of pop, rock, and country elements that Taylor wields are all present, but they benefit from the sensibilities and improvements that years of experience have instilled. To take something old and breathe new life into it so successfully is a remarkable achievement that few artists could manage. So, hats off to you, Taylor. And that’s my Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) album review!
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