Critical Voices: Ryan Adams, 1989

October 13, 2015


It’s fashionable to hate Taylor Swift these days—but Ryan Adams didn’t seem to get the memo. When Adams announced he would cover Swift’s 2014 blockbuster album 1989 in mid-August, many disaffected Pitchfork readers welcomed what was sure to be an ironic takedown of the pop idol. But if there’s one thing that can be said about the product of Adams’s labors, it’s that his rendition of 1989 is reverently sincere.

The defining emotion of Adams’ 1989 is melancholy. He strips away Swift’s exuberance and excessive post-production, preferring to stand on her lyrics alone. Surprisingly, they make for a solid foundation. The solemn resignation with which Adams croons, “You can tell me when it’s over / If the high was worth the pain” in “Blank Space” harkens back to the emotional resonance of Swift’s earlier (and, in my opinion, better) work. The country flourishes he displays on “Wildest Dreams” and other tracks will make listeners downright nostalgic for such Swift classics as “Teardrops on My Guitar.”

Adams’ 1989 succeeds when framed against Swift’s work, but it’s hard to say if the album is worth much as a standalone musical endeavor. There isn’t much diversity of sound throughout the album, which creates a feeling of weary uniformity by the time the song count reaches double digits. And even Adams isn’t able to save Swift’s abominable “Welcome To New York;” the only favor he does his listeners in his Springsteen-inflected rendition is mumbling the words so that, mercifully, no one has to hear them ever again.

On the whole, 1989 is a testament to Adams’ flexibility and prolificacy, and, more importantly, it’s enough to make even the most disillusioned fans remember why they fell in love with Taylor Swift so many years ago.

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