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  • Karlee Skipper

Album Review: "Speak Now (Taylor's Version)" - Taylor Swift


Photo: Taylor Swift via Beth Garrabrant


Taylor Swift has once again made history with her latest release, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version). The singer has famously been re-recording her first six albums to reclaim their masters under her sole ownership. Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is the third installment of her re-recordings, following the 2021 releases of both Fearless (Taylor’s Version)­ and Red (Taylor’s Version). Each of these re-releases include additional “vault” songs that were initially omitted from the original versions. Speak Now (2010) is best known as Swift’s only completely self-written album, so the vault tracks continued this pattern. With slight lyrical changes, increased production quality, and mature vocals, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) proves that Swift’s music is a timeless work of art that will go down in history as one of the world’s greatest musical legends.


TRACKLIST

Photo: Taylor Swift via Beth Garrabrant


Re-recordings

After Swift declared that she will be heading back into the studio to re-record her previous albums, my mind, like all Swifties, started fantasizing about her vast differences in vocals between her earlier albums and her current mature vocals. Speak Now (2010) was written and recorded while Swift was between the ages of 18-20, while the singer revealed she recorded the re-release when she was “32 and still growing up now,” a reference from the 11th track, Innocent. Being a Swiftie since 2006, I remember growing up reading the quote from Swift, “I’ll never change, but I’ll never stay the same, either.” This perfectly represents exactly how listening to the re-recordings feel. When the listener hears the new recordings, the songs evoke a unique feeling of nostalgia. Swift’s voice is mature and contains a stronger tone, yet she manages to make the songs sound identical. Furthermore, the production quality is immensely better. The instrumentation sounds significantly more crisp and clear, with each individual instrument sounding more distinct. The bells in "Haunted (Taylor’s Version)” are louder and the bridge in “Back to December (Taylor’s Version)” is more intense. The electric guitar in “Sparks Fly (Taylor’s Version)” became more apparent and Swift’s voice matches the intensity of the production in “The Story of Us (Taylor’s Version).” Overall, every single song maintains the original magic and wonder of the initial release, showcasing Swift’s remarkable longevity in the industry and incomparable ability to captivate audiences.



Dear John (Taylor's Version)

One of the most notable moments while listening to the album was hearing “Dear John (Taylor’s Version) for the first time. “Dear John” has been my favorite song from Speak Now for a long while, so listening to the re-recording was a very surreal experience for me. Knowing that the song was going to be an emotional moment for me, my friends and I paused the album so I can prepare for the emotional journey we were about to embark on. From the very first note, I could tell that “Dear John (Taylor’s Version)” was already better than the original. Similar to the other songs, the guitar was fiercer and it tore through my soul. Throughout the track, Swift’s angelic voice effortlessly hits every high note and falsetto, breaking my heart as she retells the story of an emotional abusive relationship. In the iconic bridge, Swift reveals that she will not allow herself to fall into the unrelenting cycle of abuse that leads victims to become a shell of themselves. The emotional climax with the outstanding vocals and intense soft-rock influenced instrumentation brought me the first chills and tears while listening to the album. While only five songs in, “Dear John (Taylor’s Version)” confirms that Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) has done the original album justice and undoubtedly enhanced the already impeccable record.



Electric Touch (Feat. Fall Out Boy) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

The first of the six vault songs is pop-rock anthem, “Electric Touch (Feat. Fall Out Boy) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault).” If someone were to have told me in 2010 that Swift would have a collaboration with Fall Out Boy, I would have looked at you as if you were crazy. However, in 2023 I was excited to hopefully get another rock influenced track from Swift. “Electric Touch” did not disappoint. The song kickstarts with a captivating electric guitar riff that is quickly met by a catchy drum beat, immediately catching my attention. Throughout the track, Swift and Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy harmonize with each other while singing about the hopefully beginning of a blooming love story. At the end of the first verse, Swift astonished me with the lyric, “Still hoping that the fire won’t burn me// Just one time, just one time,” before breaking into the hopeless romantic chorus. The lyricism is heavily reminiscent of classic Taylor Swift through its clever metaphors and pure, innocent longing. With the electrifying pop-rock soundscape and collaboration with Fall Out Boy, “Electric Touch” proves that Swift is destined for an official rock album.



When Emma Falls in Love (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

With the next vault track, the production mellows down for a sweet ballad that combines the indie-pop soundscapes of Folklore and the lyrical storytelling of classic country music. “When Emma Falls In Love (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” is about one of Swift’s best friends and the light she shines on the world and those she dates. Fans theorize that the song is about known close friend of the singer, Emma Stone. Of course, this is only mere speculation and nothing has been confirmed by Swift herself, other than it being about one of her friends. However, with Swift being my favorite singer and Stone being my favorite actress, I would love to believe this theory to be true. The lyrics paint the picture of a girl that everyone cannot help but fall in love with. In the chorus, Swift sings, “’Cause she’s the kind of book that you can’t put down// Like if Cleopatra grew up in a small town// And all the bad boys would be good boys// If they only had a chance to love her.” Emma is the kind of girl that changes the lives of those around her for the better and when she falls in love, everyone can see the shift in her eyes. The end of the chorus, Swift sings the heart-wrenching lyric, “And to tell you the truth, sometimes I wish I was her.” She admits that she is not the type of girl that men are willing to change for, nor is she the unforgettable novel that they cannot get enough of. Seeing these men fall in love with her best friend while she has a history of heartbreak fills her with jealousy. However, Swift’s sweet, sentimental lyrics indicate that regardless of her personal experience with heartache, she is ecstatic that her friend is happy and in love. “When Emma Falls in Love (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” is proof that Swift has been writing excellent love songs from other’s perspectives long before Folklore and Evermore were even conceptualized.



I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

“I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” gave me whiplash from the moment the song began. The vibe was a stark difference from anything we have ever heard from Swift. The song kickstarts with a sultry guitar riff quickly met with Swift vocalizing seductive “uh-uh, uh, uh.” Throughout the track, the production utilizes the bright sounds and the upbeat strum pattern of reggae. However, the song is anything but. It has a hint of soulful rock and synth pop to create this sensual atmosphere. The lyrics enhance this atmosphere with romantic lines teetering on sexual implications. In the chorus, Swift sings, “’Cause I can see you// Waitin’ down the hall from me// And I could see you// Up against the wall with me// And what would you do?// Baby, if you only knew// That I can see you.” With additional lyrics such as, “You won’t believe half the things I see inside my head” and “And I could see you being my addition// You can see me as a secret mission// Hide away and I will start behaving myself,” this track is the catalyst of Swift’s later released suggestive tracks, such as “Dress,” “False God,” and “…So It Goes.” The cheeky lyrics and the magnetic vibe makes “I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” my personal favorite of the vault tracks and leaves me wanting more like it from Swift.



“Castles Crumbling (feat. Hayley Williams) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)”

The fourth vault track contains another surprising collaboration on the album with none other than Swift’s best friend, Hayley Williams of Paramore. “Castles Crumbling (feat. Hayley Williams) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” is a devastating track about the undeserving hate Swift has undergone. Although the song was written prior to Reputation and everything that led up to that album, the lyrics felt very reminiscent of that era. This leads fans to speculate that the song was written about the infamous moment at the 2009 VMAs. Swift starts the song with the lines: “Once, I had an empire in a golden age// I was held up so high, I used to be great// They used to cheer when they saw my face// Now I fear I have fallen from grace.” These lyrics feel taken straight out of a fairytale, but are saturated in Swift’s iconic imagery. The production beautifully matches this theme with a powerful haunting production that emulates a fantasy movie. Swift’s angelic voice leads the song until Williams takes over in the second verse. Once the second pre-chorus begins, the two singers harmonize with one another, bringing an additional dynamic to the track. The vocals contain an element of fragility that emphasizes the emotional atmosphere. Before the bridge begins, vocalizations that resemble the bridge in "Innocent (Taylor's Version)" lead to the climax of this track. Due to this song being confirmed about the VMA incident, these vocalizations nearly prove that this vault track is about the same event. This unique inclusion makes “Castles Crumbling (feat. Hayley Williams) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” one of the best tracks on the entire album and is an excellent example of Swift’s ingenious songwriting.



Foolish One (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

“Foolish One (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” is a melancholic country-pop song about unrequited love and inevitable disappointment. Throughout the song, Swift shares her experience of unrelenting heartache and hoping things will change, only to be left broken and scorned. In the pre-chorus, she sings: “And the voice say, ‘You are not the exception// You will never learn your lesson’” before breaking into the self-deprecating chorus. These voices tell her: “Foolish one// Stop checkin’ your mailbox for confessions of love// That ain’t never gonna come// You will take the long way// You will take the long way down.” Despite her knowing in the back of her mind that she is only going to end up hurt, she will try her “best to seem bulletproof” and hope that one day they will end up together. In the bridge, the lyrics reveal the heartbreaking reality that her lover will end up with another woman while Swift is left alone, wondering what went wrong. Paired with this vulnerable storyline, the song is led by an acoustic guitar and a catchy beat that perfectly exemplifies Swift’s country-pop sounds found in her early years.



Timeless (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)

“Timeless (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” immediately made me recall “Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” from her first album. Both songs are a sweet country ballad that guides the listener through a perfect love story that was written in the stars. Swift begins this vault track with a soft acoustic guitar to set the delicate vibe, before her melodic voice begins. She sets the scene of an old antique shop with vintage photos, before diving into a love that is so perfect, it is timeless. Throughout the track, she tells her lover that even in another life, in another time, they would have still found each other. They are each other’s destiny, so even in 1944 during the war or in the 1500s when she was betrothed to another man, he would have still been hers. The song takes the listener through this sweet, sentimental storyline before landing on the final chorus where she describes how they truly met. The song is a perfect first dance song at a wedding and proves that no matter what Swift does as an artist, she is a songwriter first and foremost, and will always write songs that evoke feelings of nostalgia and love in her listener’s hearts.



“I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” Music Video Surprise

A couple months ago, I wrote an article for the Top 13 Taylor Swift Music Videos. Swift decided to say “hold that thought” and release the most iconic video of her career. The night the album released, the singer had a show in Kansas City, Missouri. During her surprise song act, she announced the premiere of the music video for “I Can See You (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault)” and played the video for the lucky fans at the show. The video consists of Swift’s iconic easter eggs she likes to sneak into her videos, such as a hint that the next re-recording is her 5th album, 1989. However, the most chaotic part of the video were the guest stars. In the video, Speak Now Taylor Swift is seen locked in a vault, unable to escape. Iconic members of the original era spend the video breaking her out. Two of the guest stars include Joey King and Presley Cash, whom both starred in the original “Mean” music video. However, the most surprising of the cast is Taylor Lautner, her former boyfriend and the muse of the album’s third track, “Back to December (Taylor’s Version).” Throughout the video, references to the original era, including props and outfits, are scene while King’s and Lautner’s characters are sneaking in to save Speak Now Taylor, while Cash is in the getaway van, controlling the cameras. The spy movie imagery is a perfect metaphor for Swift reclaiming her masters while utilizing major influences and themes of the original recording. The music video is filled with sweet nostalgia that is bound to make every single Swiftie emotional.





Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) managed to exceed my already high expectations. The quality was crisp and clear, while maintaining the integrity of the songs. Even with the lyric change in “Better Than Revenge (Taylor’s Version),” I feel like nothing has changed, other than Swift regaining ownership of her hardwork. The vault tracks may be the best ones fans have received from any of the re-recordings, each with a different sound that mixes multiple genres. Speak Now (2010) was already Swift’s first attempt at genre-blending, so it is no surprise that the vault songs have even more rock and pop influences. With her latest re-recording, Swift is halfway finished reclaiming her stolen art, with Taylor Swift, 1989, and Reputation ready to be broken out of the vault.



Written By Karlee Skipper



*copyright not intended. Fair use act, section 107.

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