Treating fans to an expanded edition of a cult classic, Taylor Swift’s Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) officially marks the halfway point in this musical icon’s journey to reclaim ownership of her masters. A beloved project remembered by its glorious purple album cover, Speak Now is the stepping stone between 2008’s fairytale Fearless and the cold hard ground of 2012’s Red.
Listening in order to the sixteen tracks of the original Speak Now may at first give listeners a jolting reminder of just how turbulent it really is. It lurches from the shadowy, sad acoustics of ‘Innocent’ to the Twilight fantasy ‘Haunted’ in a heartbeat, or combines the misery of ‘Last Kiss’ with the anthemic ‘Long Live’ in jarring fashion. But this has perhaps been the charm of Speak Now all along. It’s the project which best showcases Swift’s ability to finesse constant shifts between tone, genre and theme with a natural ease. Moreover, it’s the album that truly defines the final difficult transition from child to adult, an experience it seems even a superstar of Taylor Swift’s calibre cannot avoid struggling through.
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From the album’s opening moments with its beloved lead single ‘Mine’, it’s apparent Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) boasts a stunning amount of new vocal clarity and depth. The song’s dreamy narrative of a young couple facing the battles of real-world commitment is an ideal mission statement for Speak Now, both thematically and sonically, and it’s promising that such care has been given to the refreshed production from the get-go.
Fan favourite ‘Dear John’ is an immediate highlight. This rendition leans even further into parodying the wavering John Mayer-style guitar riff, so much so you can practically hear Swift smirking with her production team. Vocals from the now older, wiser Swift only make the emotion all the more poignant. Similarly, where ‘Better than Revenge’ once seemed to portray a girl acting out to hide her insecurities, it now seethes with a woman’s confidence and aggression. A welcome lyrical change in its chorus allows the track to walk the line carefully between tongue-in-cheek exaggeration and sincere teenage angst.
TikTok viral hit ‘Enchanted’ glitters with all the magical energy of its original edition. It’s one of the closest recreations, still shimmering with lavish instrumentals and incredible dynamic range. ‘Long Live’ and ‘Sparks Fly’ are similarly rich. Their guitars and drums feel particularly powerful, carrying the emotional weight of just where a lifetime’s worth of songwriting can take someone.
Even some of the more polarising tracks, ‘Superman’ and ‘Speak Now’, now feel all the more polished. Throughout the album, the electric guitars and country flourishes sound bright and clear, revelling in the production growth over a decade of technological change allows for. ‘Haunted’ features noticeable new details, including shuddering vocal delays, additional backing vocals, and brighter, bolder ringing bells. Although the heartbroken ballad ‘Last Kiss’ loses its infamous “shaky breath” moment, Swift does an excellent job recapturing the pain of her first significant break-up, admitting in the album’s written prologue that she considers it her saddest song ever.
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And as if hearing the original album in such a new light wasn’t enough, the vault tracks paint a picture of what a nineteen-year-old Swift wasn’t actually quite ready to say aloud. From confessions of sexuality to deeply vulnerable moments of regret and self-loathing, each song has an apparent reason for being cut in the first place, but now serves as a profound way to flesh out the world of a young Taylor.
‘Foolish One’ and ‘When Emma Falls In Love’ serve as sweet, light musings on young romance, the former believed to be inspired by actress Emma Stone. A clear influence from acts like Arctic Monkeys and Fleetwood Mac fills the soft-rock number I Can See You, where Taylor gets sultry over sharp electric guitar grooves. It’s a song that would have shocked fans back in 2010, but can now be appreciated for its almost comical honesty, and its sonic separation from anything else in Swift’s catalogue.
Although labelled as a country-pop record at its release, Speak Now has always shown obvious pop-punk style in its heavy electric guitars and overdramatic lyricism. Thus, the two new collaborations with Hayley Williams and Fall Out Boy, both close friends from the 2010 emo scene, are welcome additions. Whilst ‘Electric Touch’ is a fun pop take on the start of a hopeful romance, ‘Castles Crumbling’ is a heartfelt prelude to ‘Nothing New’ from last year’s Red (Taylor’s Version). It warns of the struggles of celebrity at a point where a young Swift had barely even faced any meaningful public scandal. “I never wanted you to hate me”, she croons, a sentiment that would have been vulnerable enough thirteen years ago, but is now utterly agonised after such extensive and often unreasoned public criticism of her personal life.
Finally, the new closing track ‘Timeless’ is a beautifully 2010s singer-songwriter piece. Swift compares a current relationship to the unageing lovers she finds in antique store photographs. It’s wordy and melodic, perfectly packing a young adult’s ideals of love into a five-minute guitar-driven epic. ‘Timeless’ can happily sit alongside Swift’s most cinematic tracks, validating her place alongside legendary songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, and building excitement for more storytelling in her upcoming endeavours into film.
Melding reality to imagination, Taylor’s version of Speak Now is a beautiful testament to the staying power of a truly incomparable artist. Whilst the rerecording project may have begun as a legal decision, it has transcended its intent and become a magnificent way to return to each era of her career. Above all else, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version) is a love letter to Taylor Swift’s true, longtime fans, and to the intoxicating, intense years of a girl finally becoming a woman.