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Ryan Adams' 1989

Let’s take a short walk before we get into the meat of the matter. I’m opinionated when it comes to music. I’m very opinionated. But that doesn’t mean those opinions don’t sometimes change. 30 year old Andy is not as passionate or vitriolic about people liking certain bands as early 20s and High School Andy was. I still have my very strong opinions though. I lothe whatever the hell country music has morphed into, and I generally find myself bored to tears by what passes as top 40 pop music these days.

Now, I used to not care for Taylor Swift, this is true. However, seeing her embrace her pop side, combined with the fact she seems like a decent person--I kinda like the girl. I don’t think myself as a fan, but I don’t groan or grumble anymore when her name is mentioned. It’s the same way I don’t care for Lady Gaga’s pop music, but as a person I like her. When she teams up with Tony Bennett, I think it’s golden. I also like that the combination of that duo helps to introduce The Great American Songbook to young people who might not have otherwise had a “in” to it.

Two weeks ago, indie artist Ryan Adams released a project he had teased since August of this year. A full, track by track, cover album of Taylor Swift’s “1989.” Now let’s back up again for a moment, I know I’m taking all kinds of side roads before I talk about Ryan Adams’ cover record. But I have good reason, so just follow me please. I’m not just coming round to the Taylor Swift bandwagon or anything. I used to be a hipster, but back when I was one was high school and I thought it meant you wore buttons for punk bands and loved The White Stripes. Maybe I still am one? Hell, I don’t know.

Anyway, last night a friend asked me a question that’s been on my mind today: “What is indie music?” Indie, I think, is still a viable genre, but that’s been debated forever. In the free fall of the music industry,  bands who used to never crack the top 20 of Billboard would have their albums peak in sales the week they came out as their devoted fans all ran to buy it. I know indie when I hear it. To me, Indie is all the stuff that top 40 mainstream radio ignores. To me it’s the stuff that sounds like music. It’s not been over marketed, over produced, and designed to just go to everyone. Maybe, in all honestly, “I know it when I hear it” is the best definition I can offer.

I’ll admit I sometimes, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, have a bit of a “hipper than thou music guru” vibe. I don’t plan for it to be that way, I just love music almost more than anything else in my life. Indeed, sometimes I’m at my true happiest when I’m alone with just a pair of headphones on, getting lost in the music. It’s my drug. It’s my addiction. It’s my fuel. It means a hell of a lot to me.

OK, all of that out of the way, let’s talk about it. First off, I’m not going to tell you who Ryan Adams is, you can google that. I’m writing about all of this as someone who has enjoyed his work for several years, and really quite liked his album that came out last year. I was just as curious as anyone else was when the words began to fly around the internet. “Ryan Adams? Doing a Taylor Swift cover album? No! Really? All of 1989? In the style of The Smiths? What?”

It came with no clear end date in sight for when this would see the light of day. But the turnaround is really quite remarkable. It took just about two months from announcement to release. Do I know why Ryan Adams did this? No. I don’t. Adams mentioned in an interview that Taylor’s album helped him through a hard time--he just went through a divorce. One thing I don’t agree with, is the theory that Esquire magazine put out.

I don’t think Ryan Adams made this for attention. I don’t think he made it to sale records, gain new fans, or for a grab for pop stardom. I think that’s bull. Ryan Adams makes the kind of records he wants to make. I think Ryan Adams made an entire cover album of “1989” for one very good reason, he wanted to. Listening to the album, it’s easy to forget these are Taylor Swift songs. The way Adams covers them makes is easy to picture him on stage, clad in denim, belting these tunes out with his hair all down in his eyes.

In Adams’ hands, “1989” becomes an album of melancholy. The upbeat infection hit that is “Shake It Off” becomes a down tempo, reflection tune. Once the baseline novelty of “Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift” is stripped away, it’s unmistakably a Ryan Adams record. Do I like it? Yeah, I do. I’m not going to run out and buy a copy of the original “1989” album, but I wouldn’t be against having this one on my shelf.

Without question this will be a record that will be talked about greatly this year. I doubt it will make any album of the year lists (right now Courtney Barnett is leading that race), but I don’t think it will simply be a fluke record that comes and go. Again, I’m not really a fan of Swift’s music, but I like her as a person. I also, again, can’t say what goal Ryan Adams was ultimately going for here. But objectively, as just another record that came out this year, and as another record of the Ryan Adams’ catalog. I dig it. It’s not a bad record at all. See you next week.


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