Rock purists have always been at odds with pop music – polished production, catchy melodies, shallow lyrics – so it’s always a joy to see rock musicians profess their love for pop albums. It’s the closest the world of music can get to world peace. When Ryan Adams revealed his intention to cover the entirety of Taylor Swift‘s 1989, I was ecstatic simply because it’s a rare crossover and a largely ambitious one at that.
1989 has become Taylor Swift’s biggest era so far – and she’s yet to have an album perform below her increasing standards. It’s done so well for her that she’s undeniably the year’s biggest pop star with an album that will likely go down as this generation’s Breakaway or She’s So Unusual.
Ryan Adams helps add to its inevitable legacy by recording it in the style of Bruce Springsteen and The Smiths for audiences who likely shun everything Swift while keeping the lyrics mostly intact and experimenting only slightly with the melodies.
The result is surprisingly impressive. It’s amazing the difference production and intent can have on the same song. Where Taylor’s are clean, energetic and confident, Ryan’s are rough, reflective and full of uncertainty. Taylor’s sound is to-the-point with an emphasis on melody and Ryan’s relies on ambience that allows more attention to be directed at the lyrics.
And it works in his, or more accurately, Taylor’s favour. With less distraction gives more room for the lyrics to shine. Wildest Dreams and I Wish You Would both translate exceptionally well, highlighting a yearning that doesn’t come out in the originals.
The downside, of course, is that to cover an album is to cover the whole album, and all the lyrics stick out more – for better or for worse. The cover of Welcome To New York begs for the original to take it back, while competing with the hit-status of 1989‘s most well-known songs is going to be a challenge anyway. It seems Ryan may have already considered that as Style sounds unfinished and rushed, Blank Space feels like an afterthought and Shake It Off is pretty well a non-entity.
The covers that excel most are the ones that stick close and work off of the strength of the originals, All You Had To Do Was Stay, I Wish You Would and Wildest Dreams are all swell covers with interpretations that take them just far enough but stay close to their original takes.
On the other hand, Ryan’s Out Of The Woods highlights how production and melody played an essential role into making it one of the best tracks on Taylor’s album as it goes nowhere here.
Simply put, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. While it isn’t to say that any of Ryan’s takes are necessarily better or worse than Taylor’s, the point is in how well he interprets them. His best interpretation in relation to the original is with Bad Blood, which is one of the low points of Taylor’s 1989. It’s the highlight of Ryan’s.
This album of covers is commendable on principle and does stand strong as a companion, not a replacement, of Taylor’s. It shouldn’t serve as an introduction, nor as a stand-alone, but rather as a new perspective of the stories and thoughts originally recorded by Taylor. Ryan took the songs and made them different but they’re clearly still Taylor’s.
1. Welcome To New York
2. Black Space
4. Out Of The Woods
5. All You Had To Do Was Stay
6. Shake It Off
7. I Wish You Would
8. Bad Blood
9. Wildest Dreams
10. How You Get The Girl
11. This Love
12. I Know Places