Rock ‘n’ roller, avid social media user, and cat enthusiast Ryan Adams surprised fans and the public-at-large with the announcement that he’d be releasing not one or two Taylor Swift covers, but covering 1989 in its entirety. Swift reacted with her usual mix of overwhelmed suprise and delight, citing Adams as a major artistic inspiration. The love fest has continued this week as more people are picking up the album on iTunes and Spotify to positive reviews.
TSwift needs no introduction here, but for those unfamiliar with rocker Ryan Adams, the singer-songwriter is known for his prolific output and his mad genre-hopping skills, releasing country, pop, garage rock, and punk styles and averaging more than one album release per year. Adams has also produced records for such diverse acts as Willie Nelson, Jenny Lewis and Fall Out Boy.
Both Swift and Adams pen deeply personal lyrics about relationships gone awry and both have been widely praised for their supertight songwriting skills. It’s been a blast listening to Ryan’s take on this #1-selling pop album.
Without further ado, here goes a track-by track rundown on 1989:
The album opens with a heavy drum beat and bass line that propel Adams vocals into a melancholy, heartfelt rock ballad.This song sounds like the singer’s 1980s/new wave-influenced-record “Rock’n’Roll” which found Adams playing short, fast, straight-forward pop-rock songs and referencing the vocal stylings of anthem rockers like Bono or Bon Jovi. Adams should feel at home here, as his own best-known song “New York, New York” is also a celebratory ode to the Big Apple.
The opening track ends with a bang as as he synth and guitars build into a rocking finale.
So far, we get the feeling that this will be a harder, more guitar-heavy take on the album, but Adams hasn’t strayed too far from Swift’s original pop composition.
This is the first major single to be given the Ryan Adams treatment and his version is wildly different than Swift’s original. Here, Adams opts for quiet acoustic fingerpicking, singing in a Neil Young-esque gentle falsetto like he used in his earlier album Easy Tiger.
Adams is really upping the feels on this track with a vulnerable, sincere delivery. the The stark production of the song highlights Swift’s lyrics, allowing Adams to clearly deliver the line “Got a long list of ex lovers/they’ll tell you I’m insane” without its sounding like “Lonely Starbucks lovers/ they’ll tell you I’m insane” (Anyone else have that problem with the original? Anyone?) While this track clearly (and purposefully) lacks the anthemic quality of Swift’s, it delivers a different and satisfying tone just the same.
Adams sticks more closely to same the vocal delivery/production treatment as T-Swizzle. “Style” is recognizable to listeners only a few seconds in. As the song progresses, it sounds a bit like an unreleased Rick Springfield or Bryan Adams pop/rock song from the late 80s.
Adams makes a few personal lyrical adjustments. “I’ve got that red-lip-classic thing that you like” becomes “You’ve got that long brown hair thing that I like.” (Possible a little shout out to his current squeeze, brunette songstress Natalie Prass?)
And Adams replaces “You got that James Dean day dream look in your eye” with “Daydream Nation look in your eye” (A shoutout to a musical favorite, avant-garde rockers Sonic Youth.)
Here, Adams brings an impassioned, borderline-wailing vocal delivery. This one is reminiscent of the songs on his 2004 Love is Hell record. So far, this track is the closest to sounding like a Ryan Adams original. Lyrically, this song fits in perfectly with Adams’ oeuvre. Odes to dancing in the living room, old polaroids and jewelry, are EXACTLY the kind of sentimental remembrances that fill Adams’ own love songs. Adams really commits to this one with convincing and catchy results.
It immediately makes one wonder what is would be like for Taylor to cover one of Adams’ lover’s lament-type ballads (really ANYTHING on 2005 country-tinged double album Cold Roses) or to supply her ultra clean, dance-y pop stylings to a song like “Everybody Knows” or “Burning Photographs.”
This one didn’t work as well for me as the previous four, and this is the first time I can say that I solidly prefer the T.S. version. The repetitive chorus at the end that worked well on the previous “Out of the Woods” seems a little stagnant this time.
While TSwift’s song drew comparisons to Toni Basil’s shout/clap-friendly “Hey Mickey,” this cover sounds more like something by The Replacements or, maybe, early Bruce Springsteen. This was one of the first sound bites that Adams released during production, and here it is transforms the original into something entirely different and entirely compelling.
Possibly the best track of the album. Just as much as an ear-worm, stay-in-your-head-all-day number as TSwift’s—Adams kills it. It is widely rumored that his song is directed towards Taylor’s feud with frenemy Katy Perry, but Ryan works his broken-hearted-troubadour magic and comes out with an amazing, bittersweet love song. The jangly guitar and wordy vocals just WORK. When Adams gets to the bridge “It’s so sad/to think about the good times/you and I,” you’d be crazy not to find yourself singing along.
The chorus is brilliant and breezy and works like the best of Adams’ more conversational/story songs with hurried, jam-packed lyrics like “New York, New York,” “Cry Cry Cry,” or “Cannonball Days.” A classic.
Some say the original 1989 track already sounds like a cover song. Taylor has made a bold nod towards the slow, deep-toned balladry and breathy vocals of Lana Del Rey. Taylor’s version is fun, dancey, and romantic.
Ryan Adams lends impassioned vocals to a song about lust for a lover he’s not sure whether he should take back. Swift’s solid songwriting makes this one work equally well as a dance-pop jam or as Ryan’s lush, longing, alt-country number.
This one is another slow burn. Around the four-minute mark, the track gets a bit weighed down and sounds eerily similar to Adams’ “How do you Keep Love Alive” off of Cold Roses. The chorus is just as undeniably catchy as Swift’s original.
Adams gives us a break from the slow ballads and delivers a tightly crafted pop-rock sing-along and comes out with one of the strongest tracks on the record.
Another thing Adams and Swift have in common is their penchant for cheesy, cliched lyrics and their shared supernatural ability to make them seem fresh and believable. As silly as the line “They are the hunters//we are the foxes” may seem, each of these artists truly pulls it off! This one gets my wholehearted vote for a future duet release from Taylor and Ryan.
Adams lucks out again as he and Swift have pulled again from the same bag of lyrical gems. Mentions of wine, roses, and stormclouds? Metaphor about gardens? Metaphor about drowning? Check, check, and check. Add “Clean” to the list of songs that sound like they could have shown up on any Adams record of the past decade.
Final Takeaway: This is a fun collaboration between two major songwriting talents. I’d love to hear Taylor lend her personal interpretation to some of Ryan’s back catalog. I think she’d knock “If I Am a Stranger” or “Two” totally out of the park. On second thought, why not a collaborative tour; it worked for Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett!
What’d you think of this record, Sparklers? Do you still prefer the original 1989? Did you like Ryan Adams’ interpretation? Leave your comments below!