TAYLOR SWIFT: 1989 (Taylor’s Version) (Universal)
Verdict: Pop masterpiece revamped
Her astonishing work ethic has been putting most other musicians on the planet to shame for years, and Taylor Swift continues to reign as the hardest working woman in pop.
Her Eras tour is set to become the most lucrative in history, its accompanying film is shattering box office records, and this year has already seen her re-record one of her early LPs with July’s release of Speak Now (Taylor’s Version).
Now she’s returning with her second revamp of 2023 – a new, expanded version of her best-selling album, 1989, that is outselling the rest of the Top 40 combined as it heads to No.1. Named after the year she was born, and first released in October 2014, it was the record that sealed her move from country to pop.
It replaced Nashville banjos and tunes about high-school crushes with 1980s-style electronics and lyrics about more complex adult relationships. It also sent her career stratospheric.
Her astonishing work ethic has been putting most other musicians on the planet to shame for years, and Taylor Swift continues to reign as the hardest working woman in pop
Swift, 33, is re-recording her first six LPs in response to the sale of the master tapes – and the rights to her early catalogue – to music mogul Scooter Braun against her wishes.
In her bid to regain ownership, she’s already revisited her formative albums Fearless, Red and Speak Now, skilfully replicating the original arrangements virtually note-for-note.
But 1989 is the jewel in her crown and, judging on its phenomenal sales to date, it hasn’t disappointed her loyal army of ‘Swifties’.
Taylor’s voice is more mature than it was in 2014, but these restorations stick faithfully to the original arrangements.
Some fans have complained that the tracks originally produced by Swedish pop kingpins Max Martin and Shellback – including Blank Space, Style, Shake It Off and Wildest Dreams – have lost a little of their oomph, but the differences are negligible.
Style feels slightly flat, but Wildest Dreams, in which Swift’s teenage idealism gives way to a more jaded view of romance, now sounds warmer.
Much of the focus has fallen on the five ‘from the vault’ tracks that didn’t make the original cut, and they are uniformly gorgeous, taking 1989’s pop template and enhancing it with swooning melodies, banks of backing vocals, clever lyrics and ear-catching hooks.
One song, Say Don’t Go, pairs Taylor’s diary-style lyrics with another giant in Diane Warren, queen of the power ballad and a writer who has penned hits for Céline Dion and Cher. It builds into an epic, with crackling drums and booming synths.
1989 is the jewel in her crown and, judging on its phenomenal sales to date, it hasn’t disappointed her loyal army of ‘Swifties’
She’s returning with her second revamp of 2023 – a new, expanded version of her best-selling album, 1989
In contrast, Slut!, despite that provocative title, is a softer ballad in which Swift laments that it is she rather than any of her former lovers who is publicly shamed for her romantic dalliances: ‘Got lovestruck, went straight to my head, got lovesick all over my bed… and if they call me a “slut!”, you know it might be worth it for once,’ she shrugs.
Of the other new tracks, Is It Over Now? is a brilliant slow-burner, and Now That We Don’t Talk a classic love-gone-wrong story in which Swift drily finds the bright side of a break-up (‘I don’t have to pretend I like acid rock’).
Suburban Legends feels like a throwback to the diary songs of old. ‘I broke my own heart because you were too polite to do it,’ she reflects.
When she first released 1989, Taylor described it as a ‘rebirth, my first official pop album.’
It won album of the year at the Grammys in 2016, and made her a superstar. Nine years on, it sounds better than ever.