Double Takes: Ryan Adams reimagines Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’
Last year, the Emerald enlisted Taylor Swift superfan (Mike Mendoza) and a first-time listener (Craig Wright) to review her album 1989 in our Double Takes series, in which two writers go head-to-head in an in-depth analysis. Now, the tables have turned as Ryan Adams finally released his full, sequential cover of Swift’s still omnipresent smash hit record. This time, Wright is the resident Ryan Adams expert, while Mendoza is a first-time listener.
Listen to Ryan Adams’ take on “Bad Blood” below.
Craig Wright (resident Ryan Adams expert)
I have to admit it; I made a huge mistake not picking Taylor Swift’s 1989 as 2014’s album of the year. In fact, it fell outside of my top five. Everybody from young girls to middle-aged, denim-clad rockers adore this album, which is why we’re here now. No album has come anywhere near being as culturally significant this decade, with Swift approaching Beatlemania levels of fame. If it were put to a popular vote, it’s safe to assume Taylor Swift would be elected Queen of the World in a landslide victory.
The best part of 1989 is the top-notch songwriting, which Ryan Adams has exemplified in his no-nonsense cover album. The main difference between Swift and Adams’ 1989 is that Swift made a very personal album in which the audience is just that: the audience. We are watching her reinvention without participating (maybe dancing along), from the overly poppy “Welcome To New York,” to the subdued, yet masterful finale, “Clean.”
Using the same words and chord structures, Adams manages to deconstruct Swift’s album, rip out its still-beating heart and create an entirely different, more personal experience for the listener. Here, the audience is forced to listen up, shed a tear and share Adams’ pain. Even though we’ve already heard these tracks before, each of Adams’ songs are a sonic journey that is impossible to not become totally enveloped by.
The best example of a song that benefits from Adams’ renovation is “I Know Places.” The lyrics become the song’s focus, with a much more interesting musical approach than the original that a tango-like anthem fit for a villain escaping the countryside.
For some reason, hearing Adams sing “Places” clarified Swift’s intentions. It’s not a ballad, but a cry for help. The running and hiding is to escape the fans and paparazzi; the desperate search to discover a moment of solace in a chaotic and public life in which a single act of stupidity could have unimaginable ramifications against her persona.
On very rare occasions cover songs far surpass the original version. “Bad Blood” is one of those moments. Adams makes this song his own, so much so that it could have been prominently featured on his 2014 self-titled album. His version is much more believable, honest and more pleasing overall. Swift’s “Bad Blood” is the most skip-worthy track on either album, while Ryan Adams makeover of it is the strongest candidate for best song on either album.
Worth mentioning as well are his cracks at “Welcome To New York” in the style of The Smiths, a mellow waltz version of “Out Of The Woods” and “How You Get The Girl” transformed into a cautionary love tale.
The mutual respect these artists have for each other is abundantly clear. Adams was forced to find ways to make the album flow as well as the original, chart dominating album – a titanic task for any mere mortal to accomplish, but in the process, he has created the perfect companion album that leads to a greater appreciation for 1989.
Currently, 1989 appears on the iTunes Top 10 list twice. Adams is No. 3, while Swift (11 months after the release) is hanging tight at No. 7.
Final thought: Adams took on a daunting task, and masterfully recreated Swift’s pop-drenched, super-seller record with his own architecture, which solidifies his worth as one of the generation’s most skilled musicians.
Mike Mendoza (Taylor Swift superfan)
Taylor Swift left encrypted messages in the lyric book for each song on 1989. The message from “This Love” says, “timing is a funny thing.” She could not be more correct as Ryan Adams has finally released his cover album of 1989, which created a social media frenzy as Adams slowly released previews of each song on Twitter.
Adams’ 1989 captures the mood of the album in a different light than Ms. Swift’s, in part because Adams was in a different stage of his life when he recorded his covers. Executed very carefully, Adams successfully takes each song and adds a unique element from his personal experiences, which showcases his incredible talent.
Adams first had the idea to cover 1989 after spending Christmas alone in Los Angeles while reeling from a divorce that capped his five-year marriage to Mandy Moore. He wanted to send the synth-driven pop songs of 1989 through the filter of despair and hopelessness key to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder.
Adams knew his interpretation would strip these songs to their core and showcase what they were on the inside: masterful, well-written songs by Taylor Swift and her co-writers. It maintains the heartbreak element that Swift is recognized for, but when performed by Ryan Adams, they’re given a new story and meaning.
“Blank Space” is a satirical bass-heavy song written to mock the media and how it portrays Taylor Swift as a serial dater, but when you hear Ryan Adams finger-picking an acoustic guitar ballad, it becomes the story of a couple who were madly in love until their relationship literally went down in flames.
While removing the bridge of “Boys only want love if it’s torture/ don’t say I didn’t, say I didn’t warn you” – a line that many Swifties belted out and enjoyed at her live shows – Adams was able to keep the underlining message of torture without ever saying it through his aching, saddened vocals on the track.
“Shake It Off” was Swift’s first single for 1989 and it is arguably one of her weakest lyrical efforts on 1989 (along with “Out of the Woods”). Though “Shake It Off” is a massive statement song by Swift – reaffirming her decision of becoming a pop star (and the biggest one of our time) and not caring what her label, critics or fans were going to say – Adams, inspired by Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” slows down Swift’s screamingly colorful “Shake It Off” into a slow burning black and white story of loneliness.
With “Out Of The Woods,” Adams extends it past the six-minute mark, transforming a fast paced electronic (and worrisome) track into a mellow and nostalgic waltz. The repeated lyrics are cast in a different light, making them his own, as he did across the entire album.
Final thought: Ryan Adams’ version of 1989 is a beautiful yet tear-jerking cover of Taylor Swift’s original that highlights her writing and his musical intellect.
Listen to Mike and Craig discuss Adams’ v. Swift’s 1989 in a podcast below, wherein they break down each track in a boxing-style scorecard to determine which version reigns supreme.
Follow Craig on Twitter: @wgwcraig
Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikewheresike