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Taylor Swift / Ryan Adams – 1989

November 7, 2015



I am pretty late to the party. I am just now listening to Taylor Swift’s 1989. I am not a hater, but I have never listened to T-Swift (at least that I am conscious of) in my life.  I just have not had the opportunity – especially in light of her not being on Spotify.

I like the concept of Taylor Swift. A pop star who is fully conscious of being a pop star. Kind of like U2 embraces being rock stars. No irony and no pretensions. Authenticity fake and in total control. A mirror reflecting on itself. I like that there appears to be no Svengali. But some how I was never interested to listen until now.  I am a Ryan Adams fan, so I had to check it out what the hell has inspired him.

I listened to the Ryan Adams cover of 1989 the day it came out and I thought it was the blandest thing Adams had ever done. I have been giving the Taylor Swift original repeated spins and it is catchy as hell.   And I admit I have heard “Shake It Off” prior to this serious listen.

I come to T-Swift as a fully blossomed pop star vs. country pop princess. So there is no shock that she opens the album with a Lady Gaga like anthem: “Welcome To New York.”  That song could be performed by any pop diva, so a little underwhelming.

Adams turns the song into a late 70s Springsteen arena anthem, which seems like a pretty appropriate take.

“Blank Space” sounds exactly what I imagined Taylor Swift would sounded like both musically and lyrically – a boy crazed predator.

Adams puts on his best Nick Drake mask on.  Every singer songwriter can’t seem to help having a Nick Drake moment.  Interesting twist on the original.

“Style” opens like a long-lost Blondie track.  The chorus is a fast forward from the 80s to contemporary pop.  This is an extremely fun song and reeks of T-Swift’s sexy librarian image.

Ryan turns it into an Arcade Fire song.

“Out Of The Woods” is like a short movie.  It tells a story like the best commercials.  I am starting to realize what a great songwriter she is.

This is the first time Adams makes one of the songs totally his – this could easily be on one of his albums.  Mellow and contemplative and dripping with emotion.

“All You To Had To Do Is Stay” is a wonderfully bitter. No delicate flower, Taylor is not heartbroken – she is pissed.

Another shade of Adams – the pop rock Ryan.  Again this would not sound out-of-place on several of his albums.

“Shake It Off” is what a great pop song should be – multiple dimensions:  a playful dance song, a sing along, a stadium anthem and a fuck you.

This is where it gets tricky – tackling a ubiquitous single that most people love just for the hook.  Adams slows it down and gives it a Springsteen “Streets of Philadelphia” groove.  He savors each word and helps you understand that under the pop sheen of the single there is a gorgeous song.  Adams has taken this tactic before when he took the Stone’s “Brown Sugar”  and deconstructed it to reveal its disturbing lyrics.

“I Wish You Would” is heartbreak but with your chin up. Hurt but still defiant.

This is the closest to the original, yet purely Ryan Adams.

“Bad Blood” is a cooler single to me than “Shake It Off.”  It is darker and more complex musically. Everyone has a friendship gone bad and can embrace this anthem.

Pure Ryan Adams – this absolutely could be his own song.  He follows the dynamics of the original, but the instrumentation and voice is all Ryan.

“Wildest Dreams” finally slows down.  I like that this is quite song after all the bombastic songs before it. An embrace of love you know is going to go wrong.

Ryan pulls out his alt-country groove on this one.  The opening guitar riff is thick and twangy.  This has the roll down the windows on the car / turn up the stereo and go cruising groove.  Upbeat melancholia.

“How You Get The Girl” sounds like it would be a pure country song if it was arranged differently.

Ryan gets his most contemplative, opening the song with just acoustic guitar strumming and soft voice. Then an occasional kick drum to emphasize the heartbreak.  Taylor’s version is sassy and sarcastic.  Ryan’s has a more kicked in the nuts heartbreak feel.

“This Love” is a gorgeous ballad.  The least adorned song on the album. It has a purity and a vulnerability. Interestingly it is the only song on the album where Swift does not share writing credits.

Adams also takes a stark minimalist take on the song – even more unadorned than the Taylor original.

“I Know Places” is us against the world.

Ryan makes it an Elvis Costello song – what could be more against the world than that!

“Clean” ends the album with a nice atmospheric feel. It floats. Lyrically it is coming up for air after almost drowning.  Redemption.

Adams goes Eagles flavored country rock on his take.

So after listening to T-Swift’s album several times I get why Taylor Swift is such a big thing. She has got the looks, the hooks and there is no gobbledygook. You fall for the character and assume it is autobiographical, but you can’t be sure if you are being deceived. You feel like you know her, but you also now she is unattainable. It is one hell of an act.

The fact that Ryan Adams would fall for T-Swift should not surprise us. He was married to Mandy Moore and used Creed to inspire Jenny Lewis.  I believe he is genuinely gob smacked by Taylor and 1989.  He is not ironic and this is not a career move. He loved the album enough to make it his own. Listening to the Adams’ cover after studying the original is better than hearing it cold. It is required to live in the shadow. It is not a standalone – but a genuine companion piece – which is makes it even more a love letter from a fan to the star.  I now officially love Ryan’s 1989.

Taylor Swift deserves the magazine covers and mega success.  I can’t remember a pop star who is so comfortable in the spotlight, yet not pandering. The fact that she has a super-fan like Ryan Adams who is willing to risk is artistic integrity by hooking on to her train is one hell of a compliment.

Sorry no Taylor – remember she hates Spotify – her one blemish.

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From → Music Reviews

4 Comments
  1. piper22 permalink

    They are both amazing and perform the songs very differently. Really good review

  2. I like off center things like this. Interesting

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