– by Melissa Greenberg
The concept is not new––artists releasing covers of songs, putting their own spin on tunes you would never expect to work, but you’re pleasantly surprised when you find they make the song sound new and fresh. It’s rare to see an artist take on the task of covering an entire album by another band or singer.
Ryan Adams (not to be confused with Bryan Adams), however, has done just that with his latest release 1989, a cover of Taylor Swift’s 2014 album. Swift’s original album was an Eighties synth-pop fan’s dream that has (as of February 2015) has sold over 8.6 million copies worldwide. It has been widely renowned by Swift fans and music critics for serving as the transition from the sweet, girl-next-door country singer that made her famous to the more mature, pop superstar that we identify her as today.
She shares stages with the biggest names in music, wins almost every award she is nominated for, and has become a household name… Mention the name “Taylor” in any music-related discussion and everyone is bound to know who you’re talking about. Adams, on the other hand, has not reached super-stardom like his friend Swift, but has made a name for himself in the rock world. He has been nominated for multiple Grammy awards and produced albums for other popular artists like Willie Nelson, Jenny Lewis, and Fall Out Boy.
Adams appeals to a very different audience than Swift, which is why many were surprised to hear that he was releasing a cover of her album. Unbeknownst to much of the world until the announcement of this new album, the two had collaborated previously in his studio on a song (one that remains unreleased) after her hit album Red came out in 2012. Adams announced his cover of 1989 over Instagram and Twitter on August 6th and then began releasing snippets of the songs throughout the recording process, leaving the world (and Swift) wondering how he would put his own spin on the songs that have taken over the airwaves since their initial release last year.
The end result is incredible. I will be the first to admit, I was nervous to see how Swift’s music would translate into Adams’ sound, but the moment the lead guitar is strummed on the album’s opening track, ‘Welcome to New York’, I was hooked. Adams brings a sense of melancholy to Swift’s songs that aren’t present on the original album––on songs like ‘Out of the Woods’ that were originally written to be big, pop-radio hits, he slows down the tempo, strips the track to a bare bones acoustic guitar and minimal drums, and lets his voice echo and pierce through the hearts of every listener.
‘Style’ takes a different turn and is when Adams truly comes into his own (or as much as he can while covering another artist.) Rolling Stone describes the song as a “Sonic Youth flirtfest” but it sounds like pure Adams to me. He takes creative agency in not including the famous bridge (“Just take me home! Just take me home!”) and it works: Adams would never beg to be taken home… He would write a song later complaining about his missed opportunity.
The album is worth a listen, even if you’re adamantly anti-Swift. Besides the album itself, it’s important and imperative that we as music fans look at what this means for the music world. An unlikely musical-duo coming together as one to give the world a fresh take on one of the year’s most popular releases? Pretty cool. Though the arrangements may be different, the foundation’s and lyrics to each song are generally the same… It is great to finally see Taylor Swift receive recognition for the hard work that goes into these albums––something to remember whether you’re listening to the original or Adams’ cover: she wrote the music first. What greater form of flattery is there than imitation?
So let’s give them both credit where credit is due. Shout out to Ryan for being forward thinking enough to take songs that wouldn’t normally be considered appropriate for his repertoire and creative enough to make it work, and shout out to Taylor for giving him the material to work with in the first place. Whether you like it or not, 1989 will go down in history as one of the most important albums of the past year. Be a part of it’s legacy by giving Adams’ cover a listen.