If you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you probably wouldn’t know that Taylor Swift’s 1989 is the album that defies everything we know about the modern music industry in that the album actually sold and continues to sell. And, of course, since Swift is the biggest international music star since the heyday of Madonna and Michael Jackson, the Bad Blood and Shake It Off singles have been pumped relentlessly by radio.
What you might not know is singer-songwriter Ryan Adams released a 1989 cover album this week. Yup, from Welcome to New York to Clean, Adams took on Swift’s hot tracks. He tweeted frequently throughout the process, even garnering support from Swift as the recording went on.
So how was it? To me, what was interesting was that, as Adams recorded, he talked about a Morrissey-Smiths feel to what he was doing. I, on the other hand, found that Adams’ 1989 sounded much more like a Bruce Springsteen album, maybe not so much lyrically, but the music and Adams’ voice are very much early 1980’s Boss. What I found more surprising is how well it worked for the course of the entire album. Shake It Off goes from being a privileged pop star’s girl-power anthem to the battle cry of a down-on-her-luck working class woman. Out of the Woods is low-key gorgeous, and How You Get the Girl feels like it has more depth. Adams deserves credit for making this gimmick not all that gimmicky.
The one low (or possibly less-than-high) note: Bad Blood, well, it still sounds like Bad Blood. It was the lone track that I knew exactly what it was from the opening tones, and it ended up being the only track where Adams couldn’t seem to shake Swift off. It works, but it’s probably the least interesting of the 13 songs on the album.
No matter what, Swift wins. She already had a hit album and critical kudos with 1989. She’ll probably walk away with a semi load of Grammys next year. Plus, Adams has given her some cred with the indie crowd. I won’t say it’s what Nirvana did with Unplugged way back in the day – because that was pretty big for Kurt & Co. and most of Swift’s fans will never hear Adams’ album – but it could definitely change a few minds and draw new listeners to Swift that previously wouldn’t have given her the time of day.
Plus, with Swift taking all of her digital catalog to Apple, those who use apps such as Spotify – like yours truly – will still get to hear 1989. Just not Swift’s 1989. Sort of.