There are many things in life that most people would deem to be unnecessary. Examples of these include public transport that doesn’t work, hot cross buns that look like choc-chip but are actually sultana, and now Ryan Adams’ cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989. To set the precedent for this review, I personally consider a cover to be ‘good’ when it adds to the original or changes it in a way that’s interesting and sparks thoughts of how other songs would sound in that style.
One of the defining characteristics of the original 1989 was its vibrancy and positivity. In terms of pop albums, it hit all the right notes (zing) by doing exactly what it was meant to do: be fun and relatable. This context for the album sets the groundwork for why the Adams version simply doesn’t work – it’s lifeless, devoid of almost any indication of a living, breathing human performing it. If the original was a rainforest, the cover is a drought. Is this a harsh summary? Yeah, it is, and it needs to be to make understandable just how unenjoyable this record is to listen to.
Where Swift’s vocals soared through the mix of tracks such as “Out of the Woods” and “I Know Places”, Adams is often found sonically hiding in the background like that shy kid who never actually sang “Happy Birthday” with everyone else (all while cutting the tempo by almost 50% in both cases). While his Bruce Springsteen-esque vocal style could certainly be fantastic on this record if truly embraced throughout (instead of only on “Style”), it is instead utilised in a dragging and droning manner that quite frankly kills fan favourite “Shake It Off”, to name just one example.
Despite being innately unneeded, Adams’ version of 1989 is undeniably full of potential, and therein lays perhaps one of the reasons why it is such a frustrating record to listen to. “Style” 100% nails the attitude-filled feel that I was hoping for and expecting on the record, yet it sits alone far above the remainder of the collection. If there is one thing the record gets right aside from “Style”, however, it’s the way it reveals the true emotional content of Swift’s original, away from the new-wave beats and backup vocal ‘ohs’.
I’m not angry that Ryan Adam’s version of 1989 has turned out the way it has, just disappointed; in much the same way that a parent isn’t really angry that their kid decided to hop in a trolley and ended up in the ER with 12 stitches in their head, just disappointed that they didn’t know better. “Style” is the standout track here by a long, long way. Like, really long way. With that in mind I would highly recommend it in isolation, if only because hearing the rest of the record in following will likely cause an insatiable hunger for what could have been.
Review Score: 4.1 out of 10
Here’s “Style” for your listening convenience:
Ryan Adams’1989 is available now.