Ryan Adams’ 1989

Ryan Adams’ 1989

Do not call Ryan Adams a kidder.

Not to say it wasn’t hard to know what to make of the news, back in early August, when he announced that he was recording a full-album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989, especially given his proven adeptness at covering genres, his history of off-beat projects and the occasional practical joke.

But since he convinced us he was serious with numerous short clips from the recording studio, such as one he declared “the guaranteed saddest version of ‘Welcome to New York’ ever,” everyone has been anxiously awaiting the finished product – including Swift herself. After confirming her shared excitement with the tweet, “Ryan’s music helped shape my songwriting. This is surreal and dreamlike,” she posted several other countdown tweets leading up to its release last midnight.

And though it’s gratifying just hearing what the Ryan Adams redux of 1989 sounds like, the new album is truly great in its own right.

The whole project feels like the completion of a circle, considering that not long ago Swift was firstly a country music star with a pen inspired by the likes of Dolly Parton, Paul Simon and Adams himself. Though he originally called it a cover played in the style of the Smiths and Bruce Springsteen, the sound is most true to Adams’ own melancholy brand of alt-country best embodied on Heartbreaker (2000) and Love is Hell (2004).

Running smash hits like “Blank Space,” “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood,” though the Ryan Adams meat grinder, the songs take on completely new lives. ”It’s not a reimagining or a reconstruction at all,” as Adams told Rolling Stone. “It’s a parallel universe. That’s how I think of it. We’re creating an alternate universe, like in Marvel Comics.”

Stripped of all semblance of pop production, and dipped in a stunningly engineered batter of down-beat country twang, the tracks remain as strong and poignant as they ever have — a testament to Swift’s celebrated songwriting. As Adams attested while recording, “We’re sandblasting them and they’re holding steady.”

If this is pop-fusion in the post-modern era, we’re all for it.

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