Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ryan Adams - 1989 Cover review

Very rarely do artists choose to modify anything more than a single instrument or lyric when performing a cover, for fear of being met with the ire of a rabid fanbase.  So only an artist as established and contrarian as Ryan Adams would choose to cover an entire album by the most fanatically adored pop star on the planet.

This project confirms a few suspicions I had.  Firstly, that Taylor Swift's lyrics are actually somehow better when being sung by someone else.  Adams manages to add a maturity and depth to her lyrics that were relatively basic on the original.  Secondly, that Ryan Adams is probably better at conveying and understanding your own emotions than you are.  And third, that absolutely no one can improve 'Shake it off'.

The tempo shift Adams uses in an attempt to make the song seem more contemplative simply does not work.  If anything they remove the final modicum of enjoyment the song has, and reduce it to an absolute dirge with awful lyrics, and it actually sounds as though all the hating the haters have been doing has really upset him.  He doesn't rap though, so it could've been worse.

The highlight of the original 'Out of the Woods' also feels disappointing, as it's probably the only song Adams can't improve upon by slowing down and turning into an emotional ballad.  As far as ballads go however, 'This Love' has flourished under Adams supervision and transforms from a forgettable album track to a beautifully smooth song, dripping with atmosphere and gorgeous piano tones.  'How You Get the Girl' is the most reminiscent of Heartbreaker era Adams that the album gets, and the folk stylings of the guitars improve it immensely.

But the more forgettable songs from the original admittedly struggle to be more memorable here. I refuse to believe anyone was that excited to hear covers of 'I Know Places' or 'All You Had to do was Stay'.  Not on an album with the single power of 1989.

Adams admittedly does a good job when it comes to the latest single 'Wildest Dreams'.  While the original was a distractingly tactless rip off of Lana Del Rey, Adams version is more forceful, desperate even, as a result of the shift in speed.  'Style' is also improved incrementally by its added speed and aggression, but admittedly doesn't surpass the original in this case.  The lush guitar layers of 'Bad Blood' come the closest to achieving Adams intention of covering the album 'in the style of the Smiths'.

'Blank Space' is an absolute joy to listen to from start to finish.  Lo fi guitars have replaced electronic beats, Swift's almost obnoxious vocals are replaced by the heartbroken howls of Adams upper register and the songs potential as the perfect break up song is finally realised.

There can be no doubt Adams adds a level of melancholic emotion that was severely missing from the original.  This kind of song writing is more suited to acoustic guitars and tortured voices than Swift's confidence and pop perfection.  1989 was a pretty great album to begin with in many ways, but Adams improves it, and it's definitely worth a download.

Charlie McCartney

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