Ryan Adams’ ‘1989’ fails to impress

By Patrick Hoff

Laura Musselman Duffy/Flickr
Laura Musselman Duffy/Flickr

Last year when I reviewed Taylor Swift’s “1989,” I said it was her reinvention, a new direction for her career. The only album to go platinum in 2014, it was an outstanding success for Swift.

A month shy of “1989”s’ one-year anniversary, folk rock artist Ryan Adams released a cover of Swift’s album, recreating the album in his own style. And if Adams’ version had been the version I had heard in 2014, my review would not have been so glowing.

That’s not to say Adams’ “1989” is bad. It has strong covers of Swift’s work – notably “Style,” “I Wish You Would” and “I Know Places.” The songs take Swift’s original energy and molds it into something else. “Style” furthers the passion of the lyrics with strong drums and guitars, while “I Wish You Would” dives into the sadness and, on “I Know Places,” a certain darkness is displayed that Swift’s pop persona struggled to find.

But these three are the exceptions to an otherwise bland record. For the most part, Adams takes the power, enthusiasm and energy that Swift put into “1989” and leaves it by the wayside. “How You Get the Girl,” one of the happiest, most optimistic songs on Swift’s “1989” sounds more like a funeral march than a song of a love-struck young adult. And “Clean,” Swift’s refreshing, revitalizing, empowering end to “1989” turns into disappointment and remorse.

Swift herself was very excited for the project when Adams announced it in August, and while I was optimistic, I knew that nothing would hold up to the pedestal I put Swift’s “1989” on. I had never heard of Ryan Adams before he decided to cover “1989,” and I still haven’t listened to any of his other work. But his cover of “1989” doesn’t make me want to.

I admit, it’s interesting to hear what other artists do when they cover songs and albums, and I enjoyed hearing how Adams connected to the words that Swift had written. When it comes down to it, though, “1989” is an album of empowerment and independence, and I didn’t get that from Adams’ cover.

The best example is “Shake It Off,” a song that everyone in the world has heard and danced to at least once in their life. Swift’s version gets the listener pumped up, reminds them to ignore the critics and urges them to live life the way they want to.

Adams, however, takes that empowerment energy and puts it in the closet. Maybe he meant to go get it later, but he evidently forgot, because there’s no energy whatsoever in it. He seems to just be reading the lyrics as he plays, not connecting with them at all.

Maybe the whispering, quiet tone that Adams has in his voice works for his music, and I’m glad there are people who enjoy that genre. It just doesn’t fit with the lyrics Swift wrote and intended her music to sound like.

Sorry, Ryan Adams. I’m just not that into you. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to listen to the real “1989” – the one that doesn’t end with seagulls chirping at me.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Hoff_Patrick16.