24 September 2015

Ryan Adams - 1989


When I first heard of this project, it was a bit of a head scratcher to say the least; alternative country kingpin Ryan Adams releasing a chronological cover album of Taylor Swift's '1989'.  It is not the most obvious step for some people, but then again Ryan Adams is not someone who always takes the easy path.  Over the last few years, he has been through some emotional turmoil as he has stated in interviews; on the tour for his last album 'Ryan Adams' (cleverly linked here) , during some of the quieter moments of his tour he was listening to the latest album by the new Queen of Pop and relating to it with events that were going on in his life.  He identified with it so much, that he made this album which he has stated is somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and The Smiths.  Again, not the most obvious of bed fellows if I am honest.  However, it is now a reality and the album has been unleashed upon the world; lets see how it has turned out.

With the sound of birds in the air, the album follows the same song progression of the original Taylor Swift release and starts with “Welcome to New York”; for this song Mr Adams has went for the Bruce Springsteen path, but not the “Glory Days” or “Dancing in the Dark”.  No, he has used a sound with is akin to his ‘Love Is Hell’ (cleverly linked here to our review) time and ‘Nebraska’ from The Boss.  The song feels heavy with emotion from the outset and Mr Adams tries to capture the feeling of being lost in one of the world’s most famous cities.  It sounds like a million stories are running through this number and it elevates the song in the same way that “Wonderwall” was reinvented on ‘Love Is Hell’.  “Blank Space” is changed to a simple acoustic heart plucking number which sounds like a wistful teenage dream.  It sounds like a photo of times gone by, it just feels so emotional and fragile; to do this review more just I will have to compare it to the original, but this version is beautiful.  “Style” is huge – I mean it sounds like it has a swagger from the opening chords and this love song with a full band has a sound akin to “Gimme Something Good” by Mr Adams (from his last album) in the style of the song.  It sounds like this was a fun to create and it comes through the speakers, at the moment I am smiling like an idiot and listening to covers of Taylor Swift songs – the world is a little mad sometimes.  The fourth track of the album is called “Out of the Woods”, this strange tale of a Polaroid that shows the people in colour surrounded by a black & white world is a song that takes a while to get going.  It is one of those numbers that will mean a lot to people, but I cannot make a connection to it.  I have heard a lot worse (by Miss Swift and Mr Adams), so for a cover of a pop album to have a filler is not a big thing.  Next is one of the surprises of the album for me “All You Had to Do Was Stay”, this sounds like it could have been for made in any decade and it would still be as timeless.  The music is so powerful and elevated this tale of a relationship that has gone off the road to new heights, the tale of reflection and farewell is so simple but effective. So when the music is able to take such a simple story and make it memorable, it really takes your breath away – Mr Adams, I applaud you.


Next is a cover of the only song which I know from the original release which is “Shake It Off”; the only reason I know this is due to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson using it for the TV show – Lip-synch Wars, where he nailed it to the point that the song was drummed into my head for weeks on end.  Obviously there are differences, the song has went from dance floor filler to moody and apprehensive New Jersey anthem for the down trodden.  The tone is changed and it is the one moment on this review that I can say both songs work so well, there is nothing between them and they will both being loved by both set of fans.  Track seven is called “I Wish You Would” and a bit like “Blank Space” it is primarily on the acoustic guitar and this song about former loves is so full of regrets, that if TV shows such Friends or Scrubs were still being made they would use it for the scene when people look on as their former flames exit the door.  It is another song that is very easy on the ear and it is another number that is very easy to love as well – a bittersweet pill for all to hear.  “Bad Blood” follows on and this is a number that hit me sideways, this is due to the fact I thought I was listening to Oasis backing Mr Adams.  It sounds like it could have been created by the original line-up of the Manchester group and we know the obvious connect that Mr Adams has with them.  Another love song (well, aren’t all pop song ultimately love songs?) which deals about the destructive natures of a relationship gone wrong, it sounds as if the inevitable break-up have not happened and is just around the corner.  This version has a tone that is akin to the original version of ‘Wonderwall’, hence my surprise and it works so well.  With a modern country sound, “Wildest Dreams” is a reflective song about remembering loves long gone.  Once more, the heart break is yet to come and the request to be remembered is all too strong; this song is one of the highlights of this album as it makes my heart feel so heavy with every note and beat.  Mr Adams – well played sir, well played.

The ninth song is called “How You Get the Girl”, it is really strange that he does not change the words and he discussing how to get a lady after losing here from a female perspective and sometimes the song refers to someone wanting the singer – it is a little confusing.  With a piano introduction, "This Love” is now a solemn hymn to the love and the struggle that it can be.   Mr Adams digs something out of the song and changes it before your eyes, I know it should be easy to hate or sneer at – but it works on so many levels and it is as simple as that.  The penultimate track for this release is “I Know Places” and this song is the one which hits the sound of The Smiths that Mr Adams referred to when he was describing the album.  It has such a dramatic touch that you can imagine Morrissey and co wondering how they missed that trick the first time around.   It has that emotive sound that has been the prime feature of the album, but it seems to also have a sense of fun to the sound as well.  Ending the album is the cover of “Clean” which I have found was co-wrote by Taylor Swift and the brilliant Imogen Heap; the song is about cleansing one’s self after the end of a relationship (something of a pattern to this album) and the relief of moving on.  After all the song which have worked so well on this album, it is a shame that this cover just seems to be like a coda added to the end.  It is reworked to a beautiful country/Americana stylised song that is well played, but it is a little dull compared to the rest of the songs.  I know that the order was kept faithful to the original album order, but this one just ends it on a slightly weak number which ends with bird song in the same way that "Welcome To New York" started the album.

I was so ready to hate this, even with my love of Ryan Adams and his song; it is Taylor Swift and as a man who is approaching his four decade on this mortal coil, I really should not be listening to the sound of a woman who is top of the hit parade.  But this album is so good, I have choice but to fall under its spell.  It is by no means an all-conquering perfect album and now in the name of having to tell the difference, I will be reviewing the original album as well (DAMN YOU MR ADAMS).  This is not a dig at Taylor Swift, out of all the pop artist’s out there she is one of the few who seems to be a good egg and is very responsive to her fans and is not above taking the fight for artist rights to the music industry as she has that much clout (her appearance in New Girl still makes me chuckle).  What Ryan Adams has done here is help both of their careers out; he will get new people who are into Taylor Swift checking out his music as they will be interested to hear his other work (start with ‘Love Is Hell’, ‘Ashes & Fire’ (our review is cleverly linked here) and ‘Gold’) and the same with happen to Taylor Swift.  This is a labour of love that works on so many levels, it is something that should not work but that is what Ryan Adams does best – making the impossible real.  BTW – I’ve also heard the Velvet Underground interpretation by Father John Misty - I love the sarcasm and tone, but Mr Adams has nailed it.  And it goes to prove a point, I have now hear three versions of the same song by three different artists; each with their own merit – so far, Mr Adams is winning by country mile.  Now I will have to listen to ‘Orion’ to feel clean and just for the thrill of it, but I will probably return to this very soon.

9.5 out of ten – Almost perfect……

You can purchase the MP3 version of the album from Amazon here (not available on CD there for some reason)

You can visit the PAX.AM website here (Ryan Adams official website and record label)

You can follow his activities on Facebook here

You can stream the album on Spotify here

You can stream the album on Deezer here

You can stream the album on Tidal here

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