Music Review: Ryan Adams “1989”

Ryan Adams


I admit 1989 is my least favorite of Taylor Swift’s albums. I’m not a huge fan of hers but I do like some songs. She’s adorable and seems sweet and she writes cute songs. I liked her other albums but 1989 just didn’t click with me. 

So, I didn’t know that Ryan Adams was releasing a cover album of 1989 until I saw an Instagram post from Taylor Swift herself. It said something about Ryan Adams’s 1989. It was confusing (she had posted about it before but I don’t get in Instagram that often). So, I looked up Ryan Adams 1989 and discovered that this existed. I had to have it immediately, of course. I have had to have everything Ryan released (and plenty he didn’t officially release and a million live recordings) since 2000 or so when I first learned of his existence. It doesn’t really matter what the release is – I still have to have it.

I honestly haven’t liked his last….3 albums or so….I haven’t really LOVED anything since Cold Roses.  I’ve tried to like it but none of it has really struck the right cord with me since that album. I won’t say anything was wrong with the albums. I know plenty of people liked them. Ryan has always changed styles often and no two albums really sound alike. I saw him live twice only a year or so apart and the shows were complete opposites. It’s not a bad thing to change your style and try different things. I have always liked that about him. I’ve just not personally connected with the last few things he has tried. I’ve been eagerly awaiting something that hits me the way Gold or Heartbreaker or even Cold Roses did.

I did not expect this album to do that. And it doesn’t. Not exactly. But….it does strike a spark that the last few albums didn’t. I just haven’t felt the same connection with his lyrics on those albums but this album he takes someone else’s lyrics and twists them to be his own and it works, mostly. It also still sounds like him somehow. Even thought the lyrics and music aren’t his originally he makes them his. 

He is not new to covers. He has a famous reimagining of The Strokes ‘Is This It’ that he has never released (and that seemingly has never leaked…which is shocking). He also released a pretty well known and loved cover of Wonderwall. Oasis themselves have even been known to cover his reimagining of the song. I think with the release of this album fans are keeping their fingers crossed for a release of ‘Is This It’.

Back to this album, I don’t think it’s one I will listen to straight through often but a few of the songs will probably make my iPod playlists. A few of them even made me like the Taylor Swift versions more that I originally had. Which I prefer goes back and forth when listening to both albums. I like his versions better of some (Shake it Off, Welcome To NY, All You Had To Do Was Stay, I Wish You Would) but a few are tied (Bad Blood, I Know Places, Clean) and for a couple (This Love, Blank Space) I prefer her originals.

There are two that I am torn about.

Wildest Dreams I want to like. I prefer his rendition musically but some of his lyric changes just sound awkward to me. Those moments of awkwardness are distracting but I’m hoping I’ll get use to them. Right now, I think I prefer her version. I wish I could somehow combine the two to make it perfect….some one needs to do a mashup of it to make it a duet.

Then with Style I again prefer his version musically and I love the passion in his voice (it sounds like he is straining to sing it) but I like the lyrics of the original a lot more. The cover actually made me like the original more, though, because as I said initially I wasn’t super fond of any of this album. As far as which version I like best overall I can’t decide. So, I guess that makes this another one I am tied on.

I wasn’t initially fond of Out of The Woods at all on either album but both versions have grown on me. I don’t much like How You Get The Girl on either album still but if I had to choose a preferred version I think Taylor’s works better as a pop song. It just doesn’t work for me as a darker broody song.

Hearing all of the songs from two different prospectives with very little lyric changes but with such different moods is very intriguing. Ryan’s version of the alum is slow and darker. It has hints of melancholy and bittersweet nostalgia. Where as Taylor’s album is pure pop with some of the bittersweetness still there but much more subtle (and almost not there at all in the upbeat songs like Shake it Off). The album goes from upbeat danceable pop to a brooding breakup album. Listening to the albums back to back is a jarring and amazing experience. It makes me wish more artists would do this – cover albums in their own styles. I’m sure most would not be this interesting but it’s a very intriguing concept.

I do have a new appreciation for the original album all together now that I have the Ryan Adam’s not so distractingly poppy version to listen to along side of it. I seem to like both albums more the more I listen to them (and I listened to them both several times to write this review). I would call this cover album a success for that reason. A good cover SHOULD make you appreciate both the artist performing the cover and the original artist.

That Taylor Swift herself was super enthusiastic about this album is pretty cool. She could have had all kinds of reactions but loving that an artist that previously inspired you was then moved enough by your music to want to record their take on your songs is a great reaction to have. And an honest one. It’s definitely the reaction I would have.

As hesitant as I was about this album and as weird as the concept may sound to anyone unfamiliar with Ryan Adams and his tendency to do things like this, this really is a great album. It gets better the more you listen to it. It is, very unexpectedly, my favorite album of his in years.

You can now buy both Ryan Adam’s 1989 and Taylor Swift’s 1989 pretty much everywhere including Amazon (Ryan’s isn’t available until November 6th on actual physical cd though) and iTunes.

P.S. In an interview with USA Today, Ryan said he has two albums worth of songs that he recored before 1989 that will eventually be released. So, there are new songs to look forward to as well. He said they were inspired/effected by his separation and then divorce from his wife of 6 years. So, I don’t expect cheerful songs but he’s always had great break up songs. So, I’m optimistic about those albums as well. I’m eager awaiting (a) release date(s).

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