Universal Music Group (label)
09 April 2021 (released)
12 April 2021
Taylor Swift owns Fearless as she successfully re-creates her sophomore album.
It’s been a busy time for the artist as she has not only released three studio albums since 2019, but has also been hard at work giving a new lease of life to the older favourites.
Fearless Taylor's Version is the first off of the rank but, the likes of Speak Now, Red, 1989, and the eponymous debut, will all be getting the same treatment in the near future.
Swift’s mission is to painstakingly re-create each of her previous LPs, once made at former record label Big Machine. This goal is not borne out of a burning need for perfection, but rather a determination to own her own art.
In an impassioned statement on tumbler, the American revealed that:
“For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in”.
To make matters worse for the singer, Scooter Braun took up an ownership stake in BMG and in so doing the superstar’s work. Swift has accused the manager of Justin Bieber and formally Kanye West of “incessant, manipulative bullying...”
Fearless Taylor’s Version is the first step on the road that will see the 11 time Grammy winner outright own a version of these labours. In control of who can hear and benefit from them.
The goal is to replace the original and it is one the songstress pulls off excellently. Fearless Taylor’s Version is not a reimagining, but is as close to a note for note word for word remake as it is reasonable to get.
The artist hasn’t just made the effort to keep the lyricism and backing the same, but has also made sure to include minor touches, like a knowing chuckle, half way through ‘Hey Stephen’.
It is a testament to the remake’s success, that casual listener’s and Swifties only giving it half of their attention will struggle to spot the differences.
Using ‘You Belong With Me’ as an example, you may be able to spot the smallest of changes. The banjo in the opening sounds a tad blunter than the original, while the electric guitar might just be a little more throaty than before.
The production on the new recordings is sharper at points, with the listener being able to hear the little instrumental nuances.
For instance, at the 1:23 mark of ‘Love Story’ an electric guitar brightly pings in the right ear. The same thing is attempted in the original song, but it is indistinct and barely audible.
A change isn’t always noticeable, but when it is it’s akin to moving from standard to HD TV.
It won’t radically change a perception about a song, but hearing an extra musical flourish here and there, demonstrates the level of craft and care that has been taken to make a song hit the audience just right.
The vocalist's voice has matured over the years and is the most obvious difference. It serves to give some songs a gentle boost.
In the piano variant of ‘Forever and Always’, a subtle quiver is more noticeable at times and its author isn't afraid to drop in a dash of dramatic flare when the moment calls for it.
The atmosphere is also noticeably different against the recording of the past. The 2008 take is clean and simple. Anything unrelated to the singer and supporting musicians is removed.
2021's approach, on the other hand provides a live studio session vibe. There's a hint of movement in the recording space and some unobtrusive fuzz that makes things feel more raw.
Proceedings also benefit from an echo which helps to make the voice sound even sweeter on the ear.
This is less a stark rethink and more a tiny tweak or two, to something that has already stood the test of time.
‘Today Was a Fairytale’ finally finds a home on an album. The song previously appeared as a single and on the soundtrack for the 2010 film Valentine's Day.
The new take is clear and strong, but the sugary zest of the first attempt added a little more flavour to the song and fitted well with the head over heels enthusiasm of the tune.
As well as refurbishing those that had already made the Fearless list, the Brit award winner has delved into the depths of the vault to unleash six songs that have never been heard by the public.
The 2008 album took home the Prestigious Grammy for album of the year. Had any of the half dozen tracks been spruced up for the set's original debut they would not have sounded out of place.
‘Don't You’ is a sumptuous mix between a Beatles style and 80s synth. These elements come together to complement a gorgeous performance by Swift. Sonically the piece seems more of a soulmate to later album 1989.
Elsewhere, ‘Mr Perfectly Fine’ is a sarky modern country bop, while ‘That's When’ impresses with some nice vocal chemistry between Swift and country star Keith Urban.
Ultimately, Fearless Taylor's Version is a meticulous exercise in faithfully reproducing great art. The six new offerings only further enhance an enjoyable album and further Showcase its musician’s prodigious talent.
More significant is that Taylor's Version marks the start of an artist reclaiming their creations. Let us hope that others take note and help to reshape the music industry to benefit the creatives first and foremost.