Ryan Adams reintroduces Taylor Swift’s “1989”

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Ryan Adams reintroduces Taylor Swift’s “1989”

Joe Grimaldi/WFUV

Joe Grimaldi/WFUV

Joe Grimaldi/WFUV

Joe Grimaldi/WFUV

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His inspiration was Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska.”

Ryan Adams combined Springsteen’s Americana style, his own rock and alternative-country flair, and Taylor Swift’s knockout “1989” album to create a poignant cover album, released on Sept. 25, that exposes the finer points of lyrics glossed over by Swift’s pop genre.

With songs in the exact order they are heard in the original album, Adams stays as true to Swift’s vision as he can, while completely abandoning her ’80s inspiration. He begins with “Welcome to New York,” which, while first on Swift’s album, was arguably not his best adaptation.

The song was not a huge hit for Swift, and it won’t be for Adams either. Though Adams does his best with a song that doesn’t offer much to begin with, even he can’t pull it off. Swapping the electronic keyboard for a full-fledged band does wonders, but it’s still not all there.

Adams quickly redeems himself with fan-favorite “Blank Space.” In true Americana style, Adams knocks the chart-topper down multiple notches, and it plays back beautifully. He takes a song about a devilish drama queen and turns it into a fingerpicked love song that would entice any listener. The string quartet adds depth to a song that started out intentionally shallow and fills out the sound nicely.

Surprisingly, “Bad Blood,” one of Swift’s most popular singles, takes an unfortunate hit. The original is powerful in a way that makes it hard to reinterpret, and Adams finds himself just not hitting the mark. Without the dominant beat and Kendrick Lamar feature to keep things interesting, Adams’ cover simply does not have the same conquering effect. “Bad Blood” is angry and frustrated. It is impassioned, and Adams’ version is not.

However, while switching up many of the most popular songs, Adams does not take nearly as many liberties with the lesser-known pieces.

“This Love” is remarkably similar to the original, yet impresses for exactly that reason. Adams leaves his typical style behind, instead adopting something closer to Swift’s genre. Adams leaves it as a ballad, even disposing with his ever-present guitar in favor of a piano. The only rock influence comes from Adams’ own voice, which betrays its harder roots on a few of the long notes. The vocals are not fantastic, but such a big departure from Adams’ style deserves mention.

Halfway through the album, in perhaps the biggest departure from Swift’s original intentions, “Shake It Off” changes from a peppy, self-sufficient anthem into the story of a kid desperately trying to not let the critics keep him down (and maybe not entirely succeeding). “Shake It Off” is by far this album’s stand-out track, potentially outdoing even the original. Adams’ interpretation is not only unique, but also fiercely relatable.

A few songs remain average at best, unable to be helped along, while others work well in either artist’s style. “Out of the Woods” remains similar to Swift’s, just as exquisite in Adams’ husky tones as it is in Swift’s soprano crooning, while “Wildest Dreams” takes a country turn and comes off slightly less intense than the original.

“Style” is the only song that truly pales in comparison to Swift’s version. While Swift kept it sleek and cool, Adams makes the song a bit too heavy. It comes off loud, chaotic, and pleading, not at all like the effortless chic the song’s characters embody.

With the exception of “Style,” the album as a whole is a bit monothematic; where Swift’s “1989” has both highs and lows, Adams prefers a calmer and pensive sound. Sometimes even Adams’ interpretations can’t turn around Swift’s less impressive songs, and sometimes his ideas don’t work for her best. The entire album, though, is a tribute to Adams’ adaptability and creativity as an artist, and Swift’s skill as a songwriter.

Adams finds melancholy in even the most cheerful of Swift’s songs. Slowing down and paring down many of them, he draws focus to lyrics that were surprisingly sad all along. Adams is a counterpart to Swift’s positivity, the realist who recognizes that there are some days you just don’t feel like taking on the world. It is magnificent and absolutely deserving of at least one listen, but be sure to listen to the original first.

Email Jenna Careri at [email protected]

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