Is Ryan Adams’ ‘1989’ Cover Album Any Good? A Ryan Adams Fan And A Taylor Swift Fan Decide

This week, Jacksonville songwriter Ryan Adams releases an album covering every track on pop monolith Taylor Swift’s eight million-selling ‘1989’. Does it match up to the original? Resident NME fanatics Leonie Cooper (Ryan) and Nick Levine (Taylor) duke it out over which is best, track by track…

WELCOME TO NEW YORK

Leonie: “Ryan’s no stranger to songs celebrating NYC; see the anthemic folk of ‘New York, New York’ on 2001’s ‘Gold’. A chugging, melancholic celebration of the Big Apple, this version is lost classic rock banger.”

Nick: “Adams swaps the original’s shimmering synth-pop for a ringing guitar-driven chug. ‘Welcome To New York’ features some of Swift’s most wide-eyed lyrics and Adams’ cover works because he plays it straight. When he sings, ‘You wouldn’t change anything, anything, anything,'” he definitely means it.”

BLANK SPACE

Leonie: “Stripped off its pulsing electro-bleepery, ‘Blank Space’ is an intimate guitar finger-picker, with Ryan’s hushed vocals constantly on the verge of cracking under the weight of so much heartache. Nick Drake goes pop, anyone?”

Nick: “This song features Swift’s most knowing lyrics as she sends up the media’s perception of her as a slightly unhinged serial dater. That makes it really tough to cover, but Adams succeeds because he completely reinvents ‘Blank Space’ as a minimal and very melancholy ballad.”

STYLE

Leonie: “Swapping out Taylor’s James Dean reference for a Sonic Youth one (“You’ve got that ‘Daydream Nation’ look in your eye”), ‘Style’ is a masterclass in cheesy ’80s drivetime rock complete with the kind of sly namedrop that’ll sate chin-stroking musos.”

Nick: “Adams doesn’t convey all the emotional complexities in Swift’s lyrics about an unshakeable on-off relationship, but he really captures the lust at the song’s core. His ‘Style’ is a swaggering rock beast with a dirty glint in its eye.”

OUT OF THE WOODS

Leonie: “The album’s indisputable low point. Plodding, dreary and seems to go on for about five minutes too long. No pop song should ever be six minutes in length – ‘Out Of The Woods’ is guilty of this cardinal sin.”

Nick: “Though he doesn’t change any lyrics, Adams’ cover seems to come from a slightly different perspective. Whereas Swift’s trying to convince herself that everything is cool in the relationship, when Adams sings “Are we out of the woods?“, he sounds as though he’s pleading for reassurance from his other half.”

ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS STAY

Leonie: “Coming over like The Cars by way of My Morning Jacket – Ryan’s propulsive version of ‘All You Had To Do Was Stay’ showcases the fact that this is ‘1989’’s best track. It seems crazy that Taylor hasn’t deemed this tune single-worthy… yet.”

Nick: “Swift’s original is a slick midtempo pop song influenced by Tegan and Sara’s 2013 album ‘Heartthrob’. Adams turns it into a low-slung chug that hits the bullseye because he clearly connects with the lyrics; the way he yelps the final refrain is brilliantly intense.”

SHAKE IT OFF

Leonie: “One of the most joyous pop smashes of 2014 has become a maudlin window into a seriously dark night of the soul. This is essentially an Elliott Smith song on a harsh comedown. Have tissues and a giant bar of Dairy Milk within close reach when listening.”

Nick: “Adams’ version initially seems disappointing: given the original’s horn-fuelled exuberance, dropping the tempo and stripping back the arrangement feels a bit too Live Lounge. But when he adds some chiming keyboards half-way through, it all comes together quite hauntingly.”

I WISH YOU WOULD

Leonie: “Fitting squarely into the downbeat half of the record, Ryan’s ultra morose ‘I Wish You Would’ sees a 40-year-old man easily and convincingly channeling the anguish of a 25-year-old woman. Proof of the universal power of heartbreak.”

Nick: “Adams takes this peppy electro-pop song that Swift wrote with Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff and messes with its dynamics. His version lurches from hushed acoustic beginnings to full-bodied reverb-laden rock and back again. It’s different but it works.”

BAD BLOOD

Leonie: “In Ryan’s hands, Taylor’s bolshy kiss off to Katy Perry morphs into a twinkly fireside ballad that smacks more of heart-rending romantic rejection than Mean Girls style snarkiness. Thankfully, Ryan has in no way attempted rapper Kendrick Lamar’s guest verse.”

Nick: “With its marching band-style beats and chanted hooks, Swift’s original is super-catchy but a touch clumsy by her standards. Because Adams’ strummed guitar version is rougher round the edges, it actually sounds more effortlessly classic.”

WILDEST DREAMS

Leonie: “Bringing on the twanging guitars, Ryan drags Taylor’s tune back to her formative country music years. She might have dropped the cowboy boot clicking sass on her recent records, but this proves deep down she’s still writing songs that wouldn’t be out of place at a Nashville honky tonk.”

Nick: “Adams sings Swift’s latest single beautifully, especially when he slides into falsetto on the chorus, but his ‘Wildest Dreams’ doesn’t need to be 90 seconds longer than the original. Swift’s version floats like a butterfly; his plods along like a grumpy parking inspector.”

HOW YOU GET THE GIRL

Leonie: “Upping the sonic ante, Ryan brings in a string section to decorate the bleak balladry of ‘How You Get The Girl’. If you’re not all cried out by now, the soaring violins will have you sobbing like a baby over lost loves you’d thought were long forgotten.”

Nick: “Swift’s perky original captures the thrill of a romantic reconciliation, but Adams’ slow folky version feels more sorrowful. The way he sings it, he sounds as though he’s still thinking about the time they wasted while they were apart.”

THIS LOVE

Leonie: “An ivory tinkling tune that brings to mind low-lit, high-priced Parisian cafes and Elton John b-sides. ‘This Love’ was filler on Taylor’s album, and it’s filler on Ryan’s version. Avoid.

Nick: “Adams replaces the original’s ’80s-style synths and programmed beats with a minimal combination of piano and strings. His may not be a radical reimagining of Swift’s glistening ballad, but it’s certainly a heartfelt and effective one.”

I KNOW PLACES

Leonie: “With a verse that seems lifted from one of those sexy 1990s songs by Chris Issac – complete with a latin lilt – and a chorus that’s just calling out for a stadium singalong, ‘I Know Places’ is a low-key triumph.”

Nick: “Swift’s song about escaping the paparazzi has plenty of dark drama for Adams to mine, which he does brilliantly on twangy verses which sound primed for a Tarantino soundtrack. Sadly, the way he tackles the chorus is more straightforward, and consequently a bit boring in comparison.”

CLEAN

Leonie: “Co-written by Imogen Heap, this tune smacks so much of singer-songwriter-isms that it’s hard to believe it isn’t just a Ryan Adams original. Not least because it’s much more convincing hearing the grizzled rocker singing about needing to be ‘10 months sober’ than squeaky clean Taylor.

Nick: “Co-written with Imogen Heap, ‘Clean’ ends Swift’s album in a gorgeous haze of ambient electronica. Adams’ more organic version sounds a bit like a ‘Rumours’-era Fleetwood Mac track sung by Lindsey Buckingham – i.e. very good indeed.”

So, is it better than the original?

Leonie: “I’m not sure if it’s better, but it’s definitely sadder. Avoid if you’ve having a bad week on Tinder or have just been dumped.”

Nick: “Obviously not – Taylor’s ‘1989’ is a near-flawless and era-defining pop album. But Ryan’s version has enough ideas of its own and affection for the original to avoid feeling like a gimmick.”