Thirteen years on from the release of her third studio album Speak Now, Taylor Swift has once again gained greater control over her masters by releasing Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). The re-release became Spotify’s most-streamed album of 2023 in less than a day, a testament to Swift’s seemingly perpetual and ever-growing influence over the music industry.
Taylor’s Version delivers on almost all of these in a perfect way
Speak Now is considered by many to be Swift’s best album, putting a lot of pressure on the rerelease to live up to what made the original such a triumph in writing, production, and lyricism. What made the original so relatable and lovable was how it was able to maturely balance the optimism of coming of age and the excitement of new relationships, whilst also taking a retrospective view of past relationships and mistakes.
To my delight, Taylor’s Version delivers on almost all of these in a perfect way. The intricate themes of confusion, regret, and hopelessness on ‘Last Kiss’ and ‘Back to December’, joy and buoyancy on ‘Mine’ and ‘Enchanted’, and despair and anger on ‘Dear John’, are just as prevalent in 2023 as they were back in 2010. Of course, the excellent lyrics of the album (with one notable exception that will be discussed later) remain unchanged, and still manage to capture and portray the complex feelings of a 19- or 20-year-old despite Swift re-recording it in her early 30s.
Of course, advancements in music production technology have only reinvigorated and improved Speak Now, as was the case with her two previous re-recordings Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and Red (Taylor’s Version). The remastering of the album has led to Swift’s vocals sounding fuller and crisper, whilst the instrumentals are sharper and more polished, leading to a truly enjoyable and compelling listening experience.
Nevertheless, Williams’ feature on ‘Castles Crumbling’ was still a welcome addition
A few of my favourite changes in the production of the album include the more prominent use of an electric guitar in ‘The Story of Us’ and the ‘countryfied’ emphasis on the banjo in ‘Mean’, both of which work incredibly well to represent the synergy of country and pop music that is Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
It would also be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the six ‘Vault Tracks’ on the album, those which were written and recorded by Swift that did not make it into the original. With guest features from Fall Out Boy and Paramore’s Hayley Williams, these were highly anticipated, particularly Williams’ feature knowing that Paramore’s style of music heavily inspired the original album. However, it was slightly disappointing to discover that only one of the songs really lived up to the quality of the original album, that being the effortlessly catchy I Can See You, in which Swift describes herself exploring a relationship with a new lover.
Nevertheless, Williams’ feature on ‘Castles Crumbling’ was still a welcome addition to the album but Fall Out Boy’s time on ‘Electric Touch’ felt out of place, and on occasion, slightly jarring. It is likely because of the originality and nostalgia of the original album that the six new inclusions have fallen slightly flat in comparison, yet it is possible that these will hold as special a place in Swifties’ hearts as the other sixteen as time goes on.
It would also not be a complete review of the re-release of the aforementioned, and in some ways, the controversial, lyric change on ‘Better Than Revenge’ was not mentioned. The song sees Swift use aggressive lyrics combined with punk-esque instrumentals to describe how a girl stole her relationship from her. To the dismay of some, and rejoice of others, the iconic, petty, and problematic “She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress” lyric had been replaced by the slightly tamer and less perfect rhyme, “He was a moth to the flame, she was holding the matches.”
It is, of course, understandable why Swift changed the lyric in the re-recording. She has openly spoken out about how the dating lives of women, including her own, should not be up for judgment or scrutiny, and is an ardent supporter of feminism, as well as a role model for many young people across the world. Whilst some may certainly have a bias for the original lyric, it is also important to appreciate deeper meanings behind the change, and instead of viewing it as an example of ‘lyrical revisionism’ as some are calling it, seeing it instead see it as a symbol of her maturity, not just as a songwriter, but as a human being It is only natural that she has a different view of the woman who is the subject of the song at the age of 33, then she did when she wrote the song at the age of 19.
Overall, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a refreshing re-recording of what was already an iconic album. Whilst some may argue that it loses some of its ‘coming of age’ authenticity being recorded thirteen years after the original, this does not hinder Swift’s ability to retain the relatability and emotional depth that made the original so special to so many people. The album’s production represents the beginning of Swift’s transition from country music to pop, just as its lyrics represent the transition from childhood to adulthood, not just for Swift, but for all who listen to it.
Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is truly enchanting to listen to; it is recommendable to anyone at any stage in their life. If you loved the original album, then you’ll love Taylor’s Version even more.
Recommended listening: ‘Mine (Taylor’s Version)’ or ‘Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version)’