I am quite taken by Ryan Adams’ recently released cover of Taylor Swift’s entire 1989 album. The idea might sound initially like a gimmick, but this would be so for maybe one song, rather than a whole album where Adams has clearly thought hard about the interpretations. Or it might seem just a cynical ploy for sales, and maybe there will be some extra sales from curious Taylor fans, but it is far enough from her style to require an interest in it for its own sake.
Swift’s song-writing may not be quite Lennon and McCartney standard, even if she says she sees herself primarily as a song-writer, but Adams’ stripping back of the songs to folky or rocky alt-country arrangements shows there is a decent structure to the songs that can stand up without all the layers of varnish that Swift’s 1989 has.
Adams has said that he wanted it to sound like Bruce Springsteen’s almost bleak 1980s album Nebraska. The centrepiece of Adams’ album is the much-commented-on ‘Shake it off’, which sounds like Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ (from Born in the USA), and quite aside from its novelty value, nicely highlights in this darker version the fact that, lyrically, underneath and prompting Swift’s swaggering in the song is some fragility. Swift’s album was supposedly influenced by eighties pop, so there is a double layer of referencing here, with Adams covering an eighties-influenced album in the style of an eighties artist that probably wasn’t at the front of Swift’s mind. Adams has perhaps inadvertently made the point that the eighties was not all synthesisers and hairspray.