It’s fair to say that Ryan Adams‘ take on old mate Swifty‘s magnum opus 1989 has been polarising. So we put writers Nikki and Jake head to head to battle it out.
Let’s battle it out track by track.
Welcome To New York
JAKE: 20 seconds in and it’s exactly what I expected. This isn’t totally a bad thing. As if you wouldn’t want to drive down a country highway with the windows down blaring this?
NIKKI: This sounds like it should be background music for a montage in an Adam Sandler movie.
NIKKI: it took me a few attempts to get through the whole album because I kept going back to the original. Probably around this point was when I stopped. Covering Blank Space is a crime #blanksphemy
Technically speaking, it is one of the greatest pop songs to come out. It’s structured perfectly, flows well lyrically, the kicks are flawless and it’s so suited to Taylor’s voice so I guess the bar was just set high? I didn’t find anything groundbreaking about this version that alienates itself from being just any old, acoustic, pub cover.
JAKE: I agree that it’s nearly impossible to pull of a pop song in this style. I really should be hating this but I’m not. If this was a busker on Bourke St I would probably stop and flick him a gold coin.
NIKKI: Yeah… I thought majority of the song sounded like mumble. I didn’t really ‘vibe’ with what he was going for, but maybe other people will and that’ll be a good way to introduce them to pop? Iunno, that “alternative” guitar work at the start gave me no rationale to listen to it again.
JAKE: I absolutely cannot justify this. If you collected everyone’s negative expectations about this album and presented it in song form, this would be it. Even changing some of the lyrics just sounds… strange. No more attempts at alt-country, americana bangers.
Out of the Woods
JAKE: The first time I listened to Swift’s 1989, this track came on and I realised just how fucking good the album was. Adam’s version is nice though. It’s obvious at this point that the more stripped back versions are working more in his favour. Could easily be trimmed by a minute or two though.
NIKKI: I like this one. I would kiss my boyfriend to this. I expected him to sort of scream around the 4:06 mark, I think that would’ve broken me.
This is what confuses me because the dude obviously has talent but then he goes ahead and invests his time covering a substantial fraction of pop music, when he could just pinch little bits of inspiration and potentially create something just as good. I’m willing to be enlightened, but right now I just don’t understand what you get from being “the guy who covers stuff.”
All You Had To Do Was Stay
JAKE: This might just be my favourite. It’s a massive departure from the original which definitely works in his favour. You must agree that the vocals are pretty lovely in this, right?
NIKKI: I’m impartial to it but it’d probably make the cut to some soundtrack. It’s like very 90s-chick-flick-last-15-minutes-of-the-film-shes-talking-to-her-bff-then-realizes-fuck-boy-is-a-bit-alright-ayy-lmao-so-she-speeds-through-the-freeway-to-tell-him-she-likes-him-as-more-than-a-friend-and-they-run-to-each-other-and-colgate-smile-before-tongue-clash-fade-cut-roll-credits.
Shake It Off
JAKE: SKIP. This has absolutely nothing going for it. Lyrically it’s Taylor’s most tongue-in-cheek and fun song on the record; so basically it works perfectly as a pop song.
NIKKI: Yeah can we see this at the centre of a Hottest 100 controversy? Mm-mm.
Very similar to Blank Space in that it was produced for radio and done perfectly so; I’m not even really a fan of the original but it undoubtedly ticks off all boxes for a perfect pop song. Ryan’s was a hella boring rendition tbh. I’ve already forgotten it.
I Wish You Would
JAKE: This is amazing! I always find myself coming back to this track which is something I never did on the original album. Am I saying I like this more than Tay Tay’s version?
NIKKI: I think this is a perfect example of “slowing down pop song ≠ adding substance” I listened to this with an open mind and just couldn’t find any creativity in its execution.
JAKE: Very middle of the road and rather bland. I can acknowledge its existence but it offers almost no excitement or redeeming quality to elevate it above a campfire sing-a-long version.
NIKKI: Yas agreed. Kendrick couldn’t even save this. Also, did he mean for the start to sound like Wonderwall? I think my problem with all these songs is how excruciatingly average they are, given the hype surrounding it. Plz don’t do that unless it’s Chet Faker level shit.
JAKE: While I wasn’t sold on the covers on the first three 1989 singles, he seriously pulls this off. Lovely high note too.
NIKKI: Wildest Dreams is such a stand out track from 1989 (the original) the production was brilliant. This butchered version is the equivalent of what I imagine watching someone step on 75 newborn kittens would feel like.
How You Get the Girl
JAKE: At this point the formula in his approach is becoming a little repetitive, although his delicate style works brilliantly on tracks like this though and it’s so easy to get lost in it.
NIKKI: How You Get The Girl To Skip To The End To See If The Song Progresses But It Doesn’t. If only I could do that with my life.
JAKE: We all knew this would be a heartbreaker. I possibly teared up a little bit. It’s the perfect piano ballad for all the broken hearts out there. Compare this to Style and it’s pretty obvious that the tear-jerkers work better than the bigger rock efforts.
NIKKI: This sounds hauntingly like my dad when he’s drunk and taken over the karaoke machine.
I Know Places
NIKKI: Soz, Vance did it best.
JAKE: I barely held on for longer than one minute. The chorus picks up a little, but ultimately this is pretty bad. My face hurts from cringing. Not to mention that this is the worst song on Taylor’s original, so how could he not capitalize on this? Vance wins this round.
JAKE: Taken on its own, this is the perfect closer to Adam’s album. Gone is the divisive quirkiness of the Imogen Heap-produced original, yet his effortless laid back style makes this a cruisy, sunny day anthem. It almost works as a summary of the album, including all the elements we heard throughout his homage as a final tribute to a future classic record.
NIKKI: The only thing I liked about this is the fact that it’s the last track.
JAKE: I still can’t believe this is a real thing that exists. Leave it up to Ryan Adams to attract arguably the most difficult musical demographic towards Swift’s music, and I honestly can’t believe how well he pulled it off. It doesn’t all work perfectly; I’d say four out of the 13 tracks fall a little flat. Everyone could argue for eternity about why this should or shouldn’t have happened, but it’s here. Lets all attempt to enjoy this tribute, or homage, or whatever we need to call it to justify it’s existence.
It made me smile, it broke my heart, and I loved it.
NIKKI: I wish I could say the same but listening to this ultimately became a chore for me. I’m not Taylor Swift’s biggest fan but I highly respect 1989 as a pop album, and I just found this quite boring.
“But he did it cos he loved the album! Taylor liked it! Why compare!! Why can’t we b friends!”
Ok yas I understand the point of ‘paying homage’ but covering an entire album that came out less than 11 months ago (arguably the most iconic of its genre from the whole year) inherently asks for comparisons I think?
Like thx for the tribute Ry, it nice but it was just sort of like microwaving pie that came out the oven 5 minutes ago then claiming you did it because you’re a fan of pastry. (Plus, did you have to reheat the whole batch?)
Anyway pls note I am speaking about this from a reviewer’s perspective and none of the following is, on any level, an indication of my perception of the artist himself. I don’t personally know the guy but his Twitter consists of puppies and kittens so he’s probably the loveliest dude ever.
I just think he massacred a masterpiece. That’s all.
Our Melbourne bae Jake Matthews tweets from @jake96matthews & our… Melbourne… other… bae… Nikki Escalante tweets from @escal8rr.