At first glance this one may very well seem like yet another ARM blogpost for you to digest before returning to the usual Interweb-based practices of watching cats doing silly faces and ripping off vegan recipes strictly gluten-free. But no, even though it most definitely deals with music, I’m not framing this text as another instalment of my award-winning music review feature, simply because for the point I’d like to make I feel it’d be better not to constraint the boundaries of my argument to pre-defined redactional criteria.
Alright, first things first. On 21st September alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams released his own track-by-track rendition of multi-platinum best-selling Taylor Swift album “1989”, which came out a little less than a year before. While I’ve already got to point out that at the time of the release I wasn’t really familiar with Swift’s effort – except for those inevitable, chart-topping tunes such as “Shake it Off” and “Blank Space” that were just all over – the fact in itself got me pretty excited and utterly curious. Partly because Ryan Adams, who I’ve had the chance to see twice recently, as reported here and also here, is one of my favourite artists of all time, but partly also because the artistic move of covering 1:1 a record that has established itself as one of the most successful of all time and has such a precise and unequivocal connotation associated with it is a pretty bold thing to do in the first place. Yet, Ryan Adams is also the dude who put Oasis’ most famous song into his darkest and most intimate album and released it as a single. Or even the guy with the most similar name to Bryan Adams who then covered the Canadian’s hit singles “Summer of 69” and “Run to You” at some of his live shows. You get the idea.
What I wanna say is that with his cover of “1989” Ryan Adams has been able to access his most-inner artistic capacity and to convert such source into a perfectly sounding Ryan Adams record, as if the songs came out straight from his own urge to express himself the way he best does. In a way, it almost felt necessary for Ryan to draw upon someone else’s initial creative output in order to mirror himself from a new, fresh, and possibly less biased perspective. There’s no track on Ryan’s “1989” that doesn’t sound like something that Ryan himself could’ve written from every tune’s conception. In fact, following on this, there are in my opinion songs on “1989” that have been masterly reinvented and transformed for the best by Ryan, such as “All You Had to Do Was Stay”, “Shake it Off”, and “Wildest Dreams”, which all reached new levels of perfect after the alt-country songwriter’s intervention and can’t really compare to the superficiality of Taylor Swift’s initial versions. To be fair, there also are tunes that still seem to sound and perform better with Taylor’s backing instead of Ryan’s, as with the most obvious case of the empty “Blank Space” (no pun intended… really), despite Taylor herself declaring it her favourite reinterpretation of the whole album during Ryan’s first exclusive interview post-1989 with Beat 1’s superstar host Zane Lowe.
There is however a bucket of songs for which it’s truly hard to tell which version makes them really stand out, either Taylor’s or Ryan’s. Possibly precisely because both versions, the original mainstream-poppy one and its more inward-looking re-imagination, truly make sense and deliver that little (or rather big) something that everyone looks for in music, that is connection, feelings, and reliance. I’m referring here to songs like “Style” (arguably Adams’ best tune on the record) and “Bad Blood”, that not only showcase Ryan’s ability to spin extremely radio-friendly songs and make them his own property, but which to be honest also sounds pretty good with Taylor’s voice on top of them. In this regard, the repetitive listens I have given to Ryan’s rendition of “1989” have actually allowed me to move closer to Taylor’s original release as well, enabling me to appreciate and leverage her work in a surprisingly manner. At this point I’d also like to give a well-deserved shout out to America’s sweetheart herself, because I truly believe she’s one of the greatest out there. Not only because of her activism and engagement in trying to make the music industry a better and fairer place, but also because truth be told she always demonstrates a relatively low-profile in everything she does, especially if compared to other pop superstars of her fame. Also, on top of all this, she writes good tunes.
Going back to my main point of this blogpost, I feel like for his fifteenth (!) studio album Ryan Adams really had to initially look somewhere else in order to get a sighting reflection of what he really needed to say at this point in his life. His 1989 is truly his own, despite what everyone may think. His trademark and distinguished touch on every single song is just too intense and amalgamated for them to be just surrogated compositions with some more reverb and soaring registers added to them. Such a transposition and conversion work deserved thus particular distinction, intended to both Taylor’s original songwriting and Ryan’s adoptive ability. It may then take another 15 album before Ryan decides it’s time to embrace another gravitational perspective at his own musical craftsmanship again and tailor it accordingly (in fact, he’s already got two new albums recorded and ready to be released…), so in the meantime let’s just enjoy the sonic beauty of his (genuinely owned) “1989”.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
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