No matter how you felt about the news that Taylor Swift would be rereleasing her old albums – joy, curiosity, confusion – the fact is that these really shouldn’t need to exist at all.
The only reason a “Taylor’s Version” of Fearless is here is due to the strangely public battle over the rights to her masters (she alleges that they were sold without consultation, and that she was not offered first refusal on the sale), and Swift, rightfully, wants to reassert her control over a back catalogue she signed away as a teenager.
We know that all of her albums pre-Lover are being rerecorded or amended in some way, so why begin with Fearless? Could it be that it contains the first indications that Taylor would go on to conquer the world in “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me”? Could it be that the wealth of extra songs she recorded around the same time would give her an opportunity to rerecord and release nearly two hours of material for fans to get lost in all over again?
Whatever the reasoning, Fearless is absolutely the right place to start. The new recordings (all 26 of them), offer a treasure chest of riches. Not only do you get new versions of all of the songs from the original deluxe edition of the album, but you get nearly half an hour of material drawn out from Swift's vault, and finished with the help of recent collaborators Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff.
Already making waves, “Mr. Perfectly Fine” (alleged to be about Joe Jonas) is classic Swift – it’s a little bit country, and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, with its heart on its sleeve and its eyes pointed at the stars. Songs like this are why Taylor Swift is as popular as she is. “You All Over Me” (featuring Maren Morris) has many of the same visceral, nostalgic thrills (fiddles, acoustic guitars, hushed percussion) but gives them an almost cinematic sheen.
Being given the chance to reappraise the original tracklist is a joy, too. As part of this new release, it’s a tremendous pleasure to re-hear the artistry in “White Horse”, the restraint and delicate pull of “Change”, and the heartbursting strength of power ballad “You’re Not Sorry”. Of course “Love Story” and “Fifteen” and “You Belong with Me” and “Hey Stephen” are all here, as superb as they ever were.
The only downside to this new edition is that it will be virtually identical to the original to casual listeners. It almost seems like a missed opportunity to tear the old album down and build it back up from the foundations, but that really isn’t what’s motivating Taylor to complete this project. She is motivated by the need to reclaim what she’s already done, and to give it new life with power drawn from where she is now as an artist.
Fearless has already, in its initial form, sold over 12 million copies, and in all likelihood this new one will sell a couple of million more, so nobody could argue that these are essential recordings. What they are is an invitation to witness one of the greatest artists of all time breathing new life into a vital piece of her early work, and reintroducing it to a new generation of fans for the very first time – that’s reason enough to be very excited about the rest of the project.