Ryan Adams
1989


3.9
excellent

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
September 22nd, 2015 | 85 replies


Release Date: 09/21/2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A daydream dressed like a nightmare.

The surprising thing about Ryan Adams covering the biggest album by the world’s biggest pop star isn’t that it exists; given the state of Adams’ cluttered record collection and even more impenetrable well of rarities and tossed-off B-sides, 1989 feels inevitable. This is the same artist who I described in a 2010 review as someone “who could probably take a shit and come up with a gem of a pop hook, but [he] seems to lack that which most of us were blessed with at birth: bowel control.” No, the surprising thing is that it’s here, fully formed, as gorgeous a Ryan Adams record as anything in his own catalog. At the least, 1989 isn’t too far off his usual tack. Swift may be a pop monolith, but the caliber of her songwriting has always stood out among her peers. It’s not a stretch to find, as Adams does here, the cracked veneer of big city promises and broken dreams in “Welcome to New York,” to draw out the sap and calcify wounds into scars like his version of “Out Of The Woods” accomplishes effortlessly. This is a far cry from, for example, his 2010 “sci-fi metal concept album” that he wrote while working on the relatively bland Easy Tiger, or his near-mythical album-length cover of the Strokes’ Is This It translated through the blues that will probably never reach the public. But calling this a publicity stunt is a cynical way to look at things. A funny thing happened while Adams continued to drop snippets of tracks and relentlessly tweeted his enthusiasm for the project: these were songs that latched on to him, igniting a passion more often seen in Adams’ live shows these days than his own records.

It’s tempting to play armchair psychologist and point to the recent dissolution of his marriage with Mandy Moore and his subsequent retelling of 1989 as an almost uncomfortable referendum on himself. That Swift’s lyrics sound here like they were written for him is 1989’s surest sign of success. The knee-jerk reaction to this record has Adams’ wounded white boy shtick contrasting sharply with radio anthems like “Shake It Off,” Swift unplugged rather than revised. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s nothing tossed off about the slow burn of “Shake It Off,” its echoes of Springsteen providing the perfect backdrop for Swift’s ascendant lyrics, more of a weary affirmation of a fuck-up continuing to do what he’s always done rather than a fist-in-the-air anthem. The spartan piano chords framing “This Love” emphasize the hopeful strength in Swift’s lyrics in their nakedness; the rainy atmosphere the song evokes conjures up welcome memories of Love Is Hell. When Adams really turns a song on its head, it’s not with some flashy reimagining. While the acoustic hush of “Blank Space” certainly fits that bill, his ragged singing and subtle modifications to the lyrics are the details that transform the song into his own, more aware of a recklessness in the lyrics than Swift let on. Less successful are the songs where Adams can’t quite find that emotional vein to shine a light on. It’s not a huge loss that he wasn’t able to do more with the comparatively rote “Bad Blood,” given its subject matter, but a cover like “Style” sounds strained, its stereotypically dark vibe more of an affectation than an authentic feeling. More often than not, though Adams’ reveals dimensions barely hinted at in the original – the wistful escape of “I Know Places” cast in a shadow, desperate and wavering with a sprinkling of flamenco guitar, while a haze of dream pop obscures the sap and emphasizes the regret on “I Wish You Would.”

This transformation of what is a very bright, very confident pop record through the filter of a doggedly self-critical Adams is an effective showcase for an artist who hasn’t been this forthright since he was pissing off his label with Love Is Hell and that album’s desolate cover of “Wonderwall.” It’s rare that a covers album tells us just as much about the artist doing the covering as it does its subject, but 1989 never acts like this is anything but an unforgiving reflection; just one that uses slightly more famous songs than usual. The appeal is in the care of Adams’ arrangements, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lyrical changes and sly winks to fans, in that undeniable connection to the source material. The best compliment I could give a track like “Wildest Dreams” is that it takes my favorite 1989 track and creates one of my favorite Ryan Adams songs, a shimmering, blurry cousin to his timeless last call anthem “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home.” That’s a testament not only to Adams’ creativity but also to the core strength of Swift’s songwriting and the versatility of her lyrics, something that 1989, for all the cries of “cash grab” and “vanity project,” really succeeds at highlighting. I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute.



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user ratings (100)
Chart.
3.2
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2015


11979 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

"Wildest Dreams" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVCme_D7pV4

Gyromania
September 22nd 2015


25920 Comments


this is actually so good, and quite a brilliant move by ryan adams

Sanders
September 22nd 2015


2410 Comments


Yeah I'm loving this, and the original was a (not so) guilty pleasure of mine

trackbytrackreviews
September 22nd 2015


3365 Comments


I can't believe this exists

Cygnatti
September 22nd 2015


32637 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

If this is good then I'll

Then I'll

Idk what'll do but it'll be stupid or something

Digging: Svitlana Nianio - Kytytsi

theBoneyKing
September 22nd 2015


15497 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Nice Rudy!



I agree with a lot of these points, particularly with Style and Bad Blood being the weakest. I do find some of the lyric changes a bit awkward, and there are some moments where Adams' voice does some awkward things, but overall this is a really interesting reinterpretation of Swift's songs. I am probably going to end up rating it lower than I would if it weren't a cover album, as after a couple listens I do think Swift's versions are better, for the most part, and her versions are generally more memorable. But Wildest Dreams and Out of the Woods here are ace! I like the seagulls bookends as well.

Digging: The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2015


32190 Comments


This is the same artist who I described in a 2010 review as someone “who could probably take a shit and come up with a gem of a pop hook, but [he] seems to lack that which most of us were blessed with at birth: bowel control.


Klap on Klap

davesthesay
September 22nd 2015


56 Comments


Great! Now unhappy people can enjoy Taylor Swift songs too.
Nice summary btw.
I won't be listening to this album though.

Digging: He Was Eaten By Owls - Inchoate With The Light Go I

instantradical
September 22nd 2015


297 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I've never heard Swift's original album, except for "Shake It Off." This sounds like another Springsteen-Meets-The-Smiths record from Adams and I like that style more than anything else he's ever done.

JWT155
September 22nd 2015


14174 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Really enjoyable record, FJM's covers are pretty great as well.

Tunaboy45
September 22nd 2015


16583 Comments


Was this album really necessary?
Good review anyway man.

JWT155
September 22nd 2015


14174 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Personally, I'm all for more music and more "spur of the moment" recordings.

Hopelust
September 22nd 2015


3231 Comments


Was this released on a Monday?

Digging: Sparta - Wiretap Scars

SharkTooth
September 22nd 2015


13854 Comments


ya

Mutantsnowstorm
September 22nd 2015


504 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

I was curious to hear what this was like, and upon listening, some of the songs were well done. Unfortunately I hate Bruce Springsteen/most americana with a passion, and this style is exactly what I hate, So I'm having a hard time liking this.

TooLateToGoBack
September 22nd 2015


1964 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Absolutely loving this.

JWT155
September 22nd 2015


14174 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

To each their own, I really dig the feel of the record, like it's a recording of a cover band at a College dive bar stage at 1 am on weekday night. Some of the arrangements seem off but overall I really dig the record.

klap
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2015


11979 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9

i didn't get around to this in my review but "Clean" is probs one of my favorites here too

plane
Emeritus
September 22nd 2015


7306 Comments


fucking hate this but ily rudy, great review

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Staff Reviewer
September 22nd 2015


6676 Comments


didn't know plane 1/5s existed :o



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