Ryan Adams - 1989 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Ryan Adams

1989 (2015)


Covers are a tricky business. For every “Hallelujah” there is a “Faith.” For every “Hurt” there is a Punk Goes Pop 5. Most covers fall into obscurity only diehard fans ever care to dig up. Often they are buried on B-side records or unnecessary deluxe collector’s editions. Ryan Adam’s version of 1989 is unlike any of these. It has the forty-year-old alt country star taking on the biggest record of the past year, which was written by a 24-year-old pop sensation. And his experiment sort of pays off. 

Adams recently ended his over five-year marriage to Mandy Moore (herself a pop star of the early aughts). According to him, the divorce played a large part in him covering Taylor Swift’s 1989. At this point in his career, Ryan Adams can do whatever he wants and, frankly, he does. He is the writer of about sixteen bazillion songs spread out over different genres and an underground success of a career. Swift has gone on record saying how big a fan she is of Adams and his take of her songs. Her endorsement will drive at least a few tweens to do some research into the country star but it also opens up some ears otherwise turned off by pop music. Plus, his covers album has already gotten him more press than original material would have.

Swift constructed near perfect pop gems to be consumed by the masses. Adams puts the spotlight on the songwriting and makes them a little bit more difficult, much slower and a hell of a lot sadder. Sometimes it works (“Stay,” “Wildest Dreams”), sometimes it’s run of the mil Ryan Adams (“Style,” “I Wish You Would”), and a couple times it almost compares to the original work (“Shake It Off” with no breakdown, “Clean”). Even if it makes the teeniest amount more sense for Ryan Adams to sing a song called “Welcome to New York,” his versions of these songs never surpass the originals. That's hard for any cover song. Especially with an album like 1989, every song benefits from already knowing the source material.

Adams has said his 1989 is heavily influenced by Nebraska and The Smiths, but that could be applied to most parts of his career. 1989 is a Ryan Adams record just like any other. He’s a singer-songwriter who loves to play with his own sound (1984, for example). But by now, people compare themselves to Adams because his sound stands out, even when filtered through the work of the world’s biggest pop star. The result: an album with zero purpose but worth a listen. Because, hey, why not?

Side note: I’m curious what these sound like to the one person who hasn’t heard the original album?