“Say Don’t Go” is the only vault track written with an industry stalwart: Diane Warren, who penned a swath of megahits through the ’80s and ’90s. The rest were written with Jack Antonoff, whose rise to pop music ubiquity largely began with these songs. (Max Martin and Shellback, who co-wrote and produced most of the record, are absent, and their tracks on the main album were recreated with Christopher Rowe, Swift’s main re-recording partner.) Many of the new songs could slot easily onto Midnightsthe pair’s first album-length collaboration. I don’t doubt that chunks of these songs, whether large or small, date back to the original 1989 sessions—“Is It Over Now,” in particular, feels mostly shorn from the same cloth, as does “Say Don’t Go”—but it feels as if many of them were fragments that were built out at a much later date. Swift’s style has changed dramatically in the past nine years; melodically and rhythmically, these tracks don’t wholly match the original 1989.
Not that it really matters. Although the vault tracks extend 1989’s runtime to about 81 minutes, they also make the record’s cloying moments seem more palatable. The fresh-start optimism of “Welcome to New York” is more believable when set in relief against wearier breakup tracks; “I Know Places,” a boilerplate on-the-run-from-the-media narrative, plays like a flipside to the defeatist “‘Slut!’”. These songs aren’t technically better now, but they’re certainly easier to understand. Not everything can be saved by this added context: Nearly 10 years later, “Bad Blood” sounds more basic, bratty, and boring than ever. And while I have a soft spot for the peppy, doe-eyed “How You Get the Girl,” I suspect that no amount of time will mellow its HFCS-level sweetness. (Aside from the slightest tweaks in vocal delivery or processing, the 1989 recreations are the closest to their source material yet.)
No new wrinkles are necessary to appreciate the record’s immaculate highs: the tug-of-war between yearning and anthemic on “I Wish You Would”; “Style”’s Miami Vice strut; the Tumblr-teen euphoria of “New Romantics.” It’s easy to class 1989 as an artistically lesser entry in Swift’s catalog, however counterintuitive to its success, but these songs are wildly durable. 1989 (Taylor’s Version) isn’t plastered with a debutante smile like its predecessor—but it certainly hasn’t lost its luster.
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