Taylor Swift’s 1989 is one of those rare albums that unites the vast majority of music fans all of whom rightly bow down to its pop majesty. No matter how hard you might try and pretend that you don’t or couldn’t possibly like it, I defy anyone not to fall under its spell. It’s not just about the pop side of it though; it’s also about the quality of the songwriting. While Taylor continues to tour and play every stadium on earth, Ryan Adams has decided to cover the album in full and, shorn off their poppier elements, Adams’ take on the songs shows them off in a new and hugely enjoyable light.
Adams initially trailed this release on his Instagram account, promising to cover the album in the style of The Smiths and giving us sneak peaks of certain tracks. There is far more to this album than a Smiths style covers set however, although I must admit I had hoped that this would be entirely Smiths like, which would have been a great thing. The spirit of Morrissey and Marr is here though on the likes of Out Of The Woods which is has a distinctly Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want feel, on the fragile take on Blank Space which is one of the album’s standouts and on the jangly guitar filled Bad Blood. There’s much more too the album than The Smiths though – the likes of Welcome To New York and Style bring to mind Bruce Springsteen at his biggest and most stadium filling, whereas All You Had To Do Was Stay combines a Pixies like intro with a distinct 80’s feel to great effect.
There are echoes of Springsteen too in tracks like Shake It Off and I Wish You Would albeit from his more introspective, starker Nebraska period. Adams manages to imbue many of the songs here with a sense of introspection, exposing their darker sides and coating them in dusky, reverb laden layers. A prime example of that is on Wildest Dreams, a favourite of mine on Swift’s album, which he turns in to an alt-country, Roy Orbison like track that is simply wonderful. I find the original 1989 a song or two too long and so, given this is a cover of that album the same applies here. There’s still time for one other highpoint though with This Love turned from a nice but not hugely special pop song to a tear stained piano led ballad.
Cover versions are hard to pull off well at the best of times, so covering an album as a whole, especially one as ubiquitous and as good as 1989 is brave, but Ryan Adams pulls it off. The key is that Adams has reinterpreted the songs in his own style and, in many places, shines a new light on them. Impressive stuff all round really.