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How Ryan Adams transformed Taylor Swift's '1989' album - a track by track analysis

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Many of us were shocked when it was revealed that alt country star Ryan Adams had decided to record Taylor Swift’s bestselling album ‘1989’, his way.

Since Swift’s release last October, Adams has admitted to having connected to the album on a tour that was way too long.

With a long and lonely Christmas and New Year ahead of him, reimagining the album became his project. We all know what a workaholic that man can be.

After way over a month of teasers and countdowns, from both parties, it has finally arrived. Swift’s 80s kissed, synth-lathered and quirk-ridden gem of pop has been transformed.

Though, “They’re not cover songs,” Swift insisted, appearing on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio show with Adams. “They’re reimaginings of my songs, and you can tell that he was in a different place emotionally than I was.” 

If anything, the record highlights Swift’s often overlooked lyricism, it highlights the sugar-coated heartbreak and the stories beneath the beat.

Here’s a breakdown of how each of the tracks has been transformed. 

Welcome To New York

The album opener swarms us with the sounds of seagulls and tips a hat to The Smiths with indie guitar and a husk in the vocals. Making Taylor’s move to the city a country tale, knocking down the speed a peg or two before lunging into a growling riff.

 

Blank Space

A fan favourite got the acoustic ballad makeover. Adams’ delicate falsetto highlights the poignancy of Swift’s sultry romantic lyricism, his careful crooning tugs the heartstrings. The former synthpop number now envelops intricate fingerpicking and soothing harmony.

 

 

Style

Whilst the all-American sweetheart lusted over a certain Style’s ‘James Dean daydream look’ in his eye (we’ve all seen it), Adams talks about his lover’s ‘Daydream Nation look’ in her eye in reference to the classic Sonic Youth album. ‘Style’ has been licked with a rock and roll grit, upped the tempo and made into one that your dad will probably love. It sounds like it’s straight out of 1989.

 

Out of the Woods

Reimagined with striking strings and whispered vocals, brimmed with passion and urgency, ‘we were built to fall apart, then fall back together’ has a new sense of life. Soulfully venturing into Swift’s writing, the previously pop fix is arranged like a love letter and sang like a lullaby.

 

All You Had to Do Was Stay

It sounds as though it could be stripped from that summer where you fell in love on the beach with the bad boy with the reputation, and then had to leave your grandparent’s house and go back to college. Or just a Nicholas Sparks movie advert. Melodious and Springsteen inspired, it’s been stripped down but the sing-along vocal chants work on the minimal chords.

 

Shake It Off

Taylor laughed off going on too many dates, and danced off the preppy ‘sick beats’ because well, she’s lightning on her feet. Whereas Adams burns the words with age and wisdom. Stripped back to its core, bursts of electro keys do little in taking away a bittersweet aftertaste from his muffled tone.

 

I Wish You Would

The track that sounds most like a Ryan Adams track, it’s comfortable and could have easily been released as an original. Starting mellow, the chorus builds to stadium filling anthem heights. Eerie backing vocals haunt otherwise upbeat rhythm.  

 

Bad Blood

Think back to Swift’s ‘Fearless’ era, and then listen to the arrangement of this version. It could totally slot right into place. Recorded at a sing-along pace, with an alt rock coat, it still has all the sass of the original and building chords. The jangly guitars lush alongside Adams’ strong vocals.

 

Wildest Dreams

Ripped straight out of the Southern country book, the haunting echoes pepper the sleek rhythm with a touch of psych guitar. Adams’ husky tones meet touches of Morrissey, it’s sexy and gritty.

 

How You Get the Girl

I hate to say it, but it’s bland. Few changes mean this track slumps along with a couple of hits on the drum and a repetitive riff. Though, its fragility tells you something about how Adams interpreted the album. So in the parts that it perks, it’s endearing.

 

This Love

Taking it back to Ryan Adams in 2004, this version doesn’t stray too far from the original. Angelic keys soothe the vulnerability in the vocals, and could probably make you cry.

 

I Know Places

It’s seductive, it’s dark and hell is it sexy. If it plays in a full bar with dim lighting when you’re dressed to kill, then things could get flirty. Confidence flows and a groovy rhythm tempts a hip wiggle. It’s no wonder somebody said they could see it as a Bond song.

 

Clean

A calm, delightful tune sets the song. As a slower rock ballad, melodies add depth to the juxtaposing happy silkiness.

 

Swift’s ‘1989’ is an explosive, electrifying and much loved piece of modern music. It has shaped this year in music, given us a catalogue of go to pick-me-ups, romantic ballads and relationship advice, and made the world fall in love with her and her legendary touring show. Her songwriting has influenced many, it being strong willed, honest and bright.

Adams’ reimagining is both made and aches with heartbreak, stripping it back to the genius songwriting. It swells with emotion, and allows us to fall in love with the songs once more.




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