Ryan Adams covers Taylor Swift‘s entire album 1989. The basic sound here is the increasingly slick 1970s rock flavored alt country that Adams has favored on recent studio albums. That is fine, unto itself. But if there was anything to like about Swift’s original album it certainly wasn’t the douchebag narcissism and malevolent mythologizing that sustained its songwriting. So Adams keeps that part and jettisons the rest. It kind of would have been more interesting if Adams had written new lyrics and sung them over the same music as Swift’s album. But Adams tends not to have good ideas like that.
Ryan Adams comes across as a pretentious twat. His music can overplay the histrionics. In just about every marketing photo he has carefully tousled hair, probably a tattered jacket, and perhaps even a cigarette dangling from his lips. And yet, in spite of all that, he can write good songs. The ever-present burning emotional content is usually framed as existential crises of an individual navigating complex and difficult to the point of oppressive social relations. This album, a selection of tracks from a larger, limited edition boxed set, is just Adams solo and acoustic. There is guitar and piano, some harmonica. The effect is a bit like when the urban folk movement of the 1960s sent its brightest starts to the Carnegie Hall stage. While his vocals still retain the histrionics, and the between-song banter is chock full of pretentious twattery, the minimalist accompaniment limits how bombastic the performances can be. The results are probably closest to his solo debut (and still best solo album) Heartbreaker. He may be the singer/songwriter you hate to love, but the best of his talents are pushed to the forefront here. Surely one of his very best solo records.