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Ryan Adams – 1989 – Album Review

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Ryan Adams – 1989 – Album Review by Killian Laher

So this is Ryan Adams’ ‘reimagining’ of pop princess Taylor Swift’s most recent album. From what I gather, the original material is bright, upbeat, perky pop. Ryan Adams has used the sound of his recent, self-titled album as his template for this, a sort of moody, mid 80s mope-rock, with occasional diversions into more rootsy, acoustic pop. He claims to have recorded these songs as if performed by The Smiths. What we actually have here is his idea of a Smiths sounding album, it’s more like moody adult versions of the originals. Welcome To New York is a kind of fist-pumping anthem which mightn’t have been out of place on his more mainstream albums such as 2001’s Gold. But the mood shifts rapidly with the picked acoustic guitars of Blank Space. The lyrics and basic melody are a little throwaway, but guitar picking is standard issue Ryan Adams. The original of Shake It Off is probably the most well known of these songs, but here Adams transforms it into a creeping, Bruce Springsteen slowburn, all subdued keyboards and twanging guitars.

The upbeat numbers verge on 80s-era ‘big’ music, conjuring up visions of not just Springsteen, but also Simple Minds et al. Style is the most overt example of this, Adams’ bellowed vocals subverting the song by altering the lyrics to “you got that Daydream Nation look in your eye” over strident guitars. All You Had To Do Was Stay works better, due to some fine, chiming guitars keeping things grounded. In fact, this is the story of much of the album, many of these cover versions are rescued from pointlessness by some really fine, subtle guitar work. I Wish You Would, Bad Blood, Clean and especially Wildest Dream have that same Johnny Marr jangle to them that was found on 2003’s Love Is Hell.

There’s nothing wrong with any of this, and at times it sounds very nice indeed. The more stripped-down songs such as How You Get The Girl and piano ballad This Love fit Ryan Adams very well, a touch of string section here and there just adds to the overall loveliness of the album. Out of the Woods is a moment of low key Adams magic. With a vocal sounding more than a little like Paul Westerberg on Here Comes A Regular, Although, again the lyrics are a little repetitive, but the musical flourishes really enhance the song. A perfectly pitched guitar part swells gradually throughout the song, building towards a gorgeous string part in the coda of the song.

In the hands of anyone else, this could be interpreted as a cynical attempt to expose him to a wider audience. But with Ryan Adams, it’s just another example of his general ‘out-thereness’. It makes perfect sense in his head, and it’s by no means the worst album in his back catalogue. However despite some sublime moments, it’s probably a little too much of a leap for this to really crossover to the mainstream, and the rock snobs will never truly embrace this.

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