By Lake DiStefano
When I sat down at midnight on Oct. 27, to listen to Taylor Swift’s latest re-record, I was nervous to say the least. The three re-records released as of then were all live-instrument heavy, and therefore the challenges of a purely electronic reproduction were unknown to me. I was worried that there would be a noticeable downgrade between the originals and the Taylor’s Versions for this one.
I hate that I can say my fear was completely justified — if not prophetic. On a fundamental level, “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” fails as a re-recording, with some of its tracks being far worse than the originals.
The album unfortunately begins with one of its biggest missteps, that being “Welcome To New York (Taylor’s Version).” The second the synths begin, it is downhill from there, as this track has one of the worst mixes I’ve ever heard. Swift’s vocals sound unsupported, and the synths almost smother them. The chorus in particular sounds awful. It’s less like a wall of sound, as seen in the original, and more like disparate shards of sound being forced together.
Moving into “Blank Space (Taylor’s Version),” we are introduced to a few problems which linger across multiple failures on the record. As a song, “Blank Space” is very lyrically driven, with the humorous line delivery selling the song’s satire of Swift’s public image. This cannot be achieved when the chorus is so overwrought with reverb. It is to the point that her vocals are falling apart, and as seen in the previous track, the synths overwhelm the singer's already fragile vocals.
The last chorus showcases what is arguably the biggest issue with the record – the ad-libs. Ad-libs are extra vocal flourishes typically added to make the sound of a chorus larger. As a record, “1989” uses these to make its songs' choruses have progression, despite the repeating lyrics. On the original songs, their choruses are always larger than the last, with each song's final chorus creating a sense of climax with its copious amounts of ad-libs.
“Blank Space (Taylor’s Version)” has a last chorus where every single ad-lib is buried in the mix, to the extent where it sounds exactly the same as the first one. It makes the song more monotonous, and frankly, less interesting.
There is a case to be made for “Style (Taylor’s Version)” being the worst re-recorded song she’s done as of date. It falls victim to the same problem as the last track, with the vocals and ad-libs in the chorus sounding uninterested in the story the lyrics desperately want to portray.
Of course, there are some unique problems with the song — mainly being the electric guitar. The electric guitar makes up the song’s intro, and continues throughout the rest of the song. It is essentially the beating-heart of the track. So, the song suffers enormously when the electric guitar not only sounds different, but it honestly sounds weak and bad. On top of this, her vocals on the line “you’ve been out and about” also sound glitchy for seemingly no good reason.
“Out Of The Woods (Taylor’s Version)” is so close to being a great re-recording, but its final chorus goes beyond burying the ad-libs, to completely silencing them. This is especially bad on this track, since the song’s chorus is basically the same two lines being repeated over and over again. The lack of ad-libs to distinguish each chorus is only worsened by how the lyrics for each verse develop the story, only for each chorus to sound exactly the same in response.
The song also starts a new and unfortunate trend on the record in the form of the overuse of auto-tune. On the climatic “I remember” in the bridge, the auto-tune added makes the vocal too airy to hit in the way it’s meant to. It feels sanitized and stripped of all the emotion a natural vocal strain would have provided.
“I Wish You Would (Taylor’s Version)” accentuates previously seen problems, with its electric-guitar being weak, on top of the chorus having so much auto-tune that it loses its peppy nature. Guitar riffs seen in the original are almost inaudible now, and as a consequence the song is less dynamic.
Fan favorite “New Romantics” is also a strong contender for the worst re-recording, as well as being a microcosm for everything wrong with the project. It begins with a laughable amount of auto-tune, too the effect of Swift sounding almost robotic. The pre-chorus sounds less like a choir of voices, as beautifully depicted in the original, and more like children whining. The synths in the chorus are too loud, so you can barely hear Swift, and the ad-libs are smothered and begging to be able to breathe.
In summary, “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” fails to replicate the magic of the original, with technical mishaps and subpar performances that make the listener wonder what happened in the studio when attempting to remake these classic songs. So despite any desire I have to support Swift, I simply can’t accept worse versions of songs I’ve loved for a decade.