Taylor Swift’s 1989 was the execution of a coup. The album’s sharp turn, coupled with Swift’s social media constancy and well-crafted public relations ploys, lifted her into her throne as current queen of the pop world.
1989 pushed aside timid romanticism for a fresh, grown up confidence, her latest tracks featuring sleek, glossy production and arena-ready hooks.
So what an intriguing jolt it was when prolific yet low-key alternative rocker Ryan Adams announced he would be covering Swift’s U.S.’s best-selling album of 2014 in its entirety. While it’s definitely not the first or even the tenth time Adams has decided to try his hand at someone else’s songs, “1989” had to be one of his more interesting choices.
The outcome, as it turns out, is rather hit-or-miss. Adam’s story-telling singing voice sometimes channels a weak Lou Reed drawl, sometimes a Bruce Springsteen-esque snarl, dubious qualities when contrasted against “1989”’s originally glamorous 80s sound.
Some of the more heartfelt songs do benefit from the tender, barely-there vocals, allowing them the melancholy fragility that was often lost in the pop veneer. “Blank Space”, its polished crispness replaced by a fuzzy mumbling, becomes addictively sad. Some of Adams’ renditions may leave listeners curious as to how “Welcome to New York” or “Wildest Dreams” would have sounded had Swift stuck to her tear-droppy acoustic guitar.
Adams goes in an opposite-and successful-direction when he turns up the volume with “Style”, bringing out the funky riff hiding in its background with some snarling guitar.
But as expected, some songs, like the hyper comeback anthem “Shake It Off”, become miserably dull and awkward under his direction. There’s some songs which were not meant to be slowed down and mumbled; Adams’ voice stumbles along like an old man that can’t keep up. Similarly, the focused fury of “Bad Blood” gets watered down into submission.
It’s always nice to see artists being enthusiastic about their fellow musician’s output, and it’s certainly something that shouldn’t be discouraged; it gives new perspectives to songs we hear on the radio fifty thousand times and, if anything, it’s a fun experiment.
It may be too much to ask that every song be as good or better than the original; if even a couple of them gain new life, it should be considered a success.
Taken from that perspective, Adams can count himself a lucky winner.