I’m gonna be honest, from a socio-political perspective I find these recordings a completely unnecessary ego trip on Swift’s behalf, and that’s coming from someone who gave Miss Americanaa glowing review.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Scooter Braun or Big Machine Records did anything right. It’s always dastardly when the master recordings aren’t owned by the artist, and extra tedious that Big Machine didn’t talk to Taylor about the acquisition, since Taylor certainly could have outbid Braun. And there’s something I actually rather enjoy in her blocking the ability to use her songs in TV, film, commercials, etc. But let’s also not kid ourselves that no titan of music has been duped like this before. ABCKO Records famously left the Stones without royalties and left the Beatles with decades of lawsuits, Nils Lofgren gets nothing for his work from the 1970s due to contracts screwing him over, and the terms of last week’s subject, Richard Thompson’s Island Records deal left him and Linda little-to-no control over what is done with their work together.
Are any of these artists hurting for money? Not really. Thompson’s held onto a healthy cult following, Lofgren is now a permanent member of the E Street Band, and The Stones are the fucking Stones. That’s why I chose them. Neither is Swift. She’s just the only one who felt the need to re-record her entire discography. Quite the day when your landmark in egotripping surpasses Mick Jagger’s work in the field.
But how is the actual album, Lizi?
In two words, Uncanny Valley. So far all we have is Fearless with RED promised in November. The instrumentals are note for note, tone for tone, beat for beat identical to the original 2008 release. The struggle is that Swift is using her 2021 voice. Anyone who was alive during its initial release will feel something’s a little off listening to this version of “Love Story” like a mirror that has a distorted corner, but you can’t quite find it. Swift’s first two albums were very much designed to appeal to country listeners and the absence of those near cracks and Tennessee twang in her vocals makes the whole thing feel wrong to me. Like, if I wanted a woman who’s far too old to still care this much about boys and school to sing karaoke over “Fearless,” I’m perfectly able and willing to do it myself.
I don’t even totally dislike the premise of Swift revisiting the early part of her catalogue. These are songs that define a massive swath of white girls aged 20-35’s adolescence and there could be something very interesting in Swift reworking them with the wisdom she’s gained in the 13 years since. Something parallel to how artists will sometimes do acoustic renditions of their greatest hits and the details of how they play songs live over 10-, 20-, or 30-years shift. I just really didn’t need this Xerox of an album I bought in 2011.
One last thing as a Swiftie, why did we skip to Fearless and why are we skipping to RED? Don’t get me wrong, they’re great albums, but IMO Speak Now was the high point of her pre-1989 career. Where’s the new versions of “Long Live” and “Dear John”? And why did we skip to Fearless anyway? “Teardrops On My Guitar” was a sensation that put her on the map and also sold in the Big Machine deal. If you’re reading this Tay, I’m just very confused.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.
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