REVIEW: Ryan Adams - 1989
Tom Cushing | On 03, Oct 2015
Ryan Adams’Â 1989, a top to bottom cover of Taylor Swiftâ€™s hit album, is a heartfelt alt-country love letter to one of the finest pop stars of a generation.
The idea of a 40 year-old man covering the songs of a female pop icon could have gone wrong in a myriad of ways. Adams couldâ€™ve leaned into the â€œrock guy covering a pop songâ€ schtick, as if the project wereÂ a big joke. He couldâ€™ve reveled too much in the aesthetic tension, burdening Swiftâ€™s songs with an unnecessary seriousness. It couldâ€™ve sounded simply bad.
Instead, Adams treats the source material the same way a big band singer treats standards. He approaches the songs with an obvious affection, but gives himself the license to sing them in his own unique voice. Majors become minors, synths become acoustic guitars and the rap breaks are cut out, but Adams doesnâ€™t screw around too much with the original melodies. Because, quite frankly, why would he?
What this album makes clear to any hipsters still looking to deny it is that Taylor Swift is an artist at the absolute peak of her craft. These are thirteen flawlessly assembled songs, full of unforgettably triumphant melodies. And with Adams behind them, they become heartbreaking.
Adamsâ€™ 1989 is reverb soaked and ragged. He has stated that he was playing in the style of The Smiths, but on tracks like All You Had To Do Was Stay he sounds closer to Paul Westerberg, simultaneously yearning and angry. Shake It Off, meanwhile, sounds like Springsteenâ€™s Iâ€™m On Fire, lustful and dangerous. Which is weird considering it comes from one of the most danceable tunes of the last few years.
Itâ€™s interesting thatÂ neither version feels like it supersedes the other. Swiftâ€™s Blank Space, for example, is a monster song, insanely catchy and lyrically almost deranged. Adamsâ€™ version meanwhile finds the melancholy in the songâ€™s protagonist, this person hell-bent on making the same mistake over and over again. His version is deeply respectful, but not beholden to the original.
Adamsâ€™ 1989 isnâ€™t parasitic, piggybacking on Swiftâ€™s success, and it isnâ€™t ripping apart Swiftâ€™s album and reassembling it with a raw vision (ala Johnny Cashâ€™s iconic take on Hurt). Itâ€™s a collision of talent, underlying and deepening whatâ€™s interesting about both artists. They are both by turns triumphant, melancholic and multifaceted.