Album Review: Ryan Adams – 1989

Ryan Adams 1989

There are two possible outcomes when an artist covers another artist: it’s either going to be a huge success, or it’s going to be ultra-forgettable. I can’t tell you if Ryan Adams’ 1989 will truly break into pop culture, but I can tell you that it’s not going to be forgotten quickly. Adams pulled apart Taylor Swift’s 2015 mega hit piece by piece. Like an artsy mechanic, he welded his own crafty components and put the album back together using her lyrics as a frame. The result is haunting. With his signature ominous tone and hollow electric sound, Swift’s once poppy romp takes on a whole new meaning.

Adams’ take on 1989 helps us to better see the depth of Swift’s lyrics. I feared that what I remembered to be frilly rhymes would sound, well, ridiculous coming from a 40-year-old man best known for his mature, soul-felt writing. However, hearing Swift’s words through that experienced voice brings more validity to her musings, for me. The words that I’m usually haphazardly screeching (I’m not proud of this…) in the car with my roommate have authenticity. Without the back-up singing, without the “oohs” and “ahs,” without the skippy beats, I’m seeing Swift’s ability to write genuine lyrics. “I wish you would come back / Wish I never hung up the phone like I did” is full of a new heart-wrecking regret. Adams has done Swift a service by forcing listeners to take a second thought about her diary-esque ranting.

This cover of an entire album has been in the works for some time. Adams told Entertainment Weekly that Swift’s album carried him through an empty time last year. He would listen to it, play with the sounds on his acoustic guitar, and even add lyrics. An acquaintance of Swift’s, he sent bits and pieces to her and she was floored. She encouraged him to keep going and Adams reports that she had nice things to say about the finished product.

As for me, I’m a sucker for a good cover. Pop-ies covering indies, indies covering pop-ies, my rule for a good cover is the further from the original the better. I appreciate few things in music more than an artist owning their style. Here are a few more covers that are true hidden gems. Prepare to listen a couple of times…. Or 40…. And tell me your own favorite cover!

1. Ben Howard covers “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

2. Ellie Goulding covers “Don’t Panic” by Coldplay

3. Bon Iver covers “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt

4. Stevie Nicks covers “Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band

5. John Mayer covers “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty