Ryan Adams’ “1989” Reviewed
1989 is the most perfect encapsulation of everything you both hate and love about Ryan Adams. The man is his own worst enemy, a clever conceit recording of Taylor Swift’s excellent 10M plus units selling smash 1989 might have been fun as maybe an EP, three from 1989, and throw in “State Of Grace” plus “Tears On My Guitar” because Ryan’s roots are country after all. But it is nothing of the sort, it is another neverending drawn out production, like you’d expect from the man who follows up an album with another album and three EPS and a double live album and ANOTHER TWO EPS more or less within a year. He is like Prince in the 90s combined with Van Morrison in the 1990s. The guy won’t give it a rest.
And that is 1989‘s biggest shortcoming, as an idea it isn’t bad but in execution there is too much of it, it goes on and on and on, all these slow paced songs about fast paced things. His “Bad Blood”, a clever little celebrity feud as performed by Swift, builds to “it’s so sad to think about the good times, you and I” as though she doesn’t have half a sneer on her face. Whenever he misreads the song, his arrangement, so tasteful, a piano reading of the lick and development of the bridge, he just ruins it.
Fortunately, it starts off very well. The seagulls that introduce you to “Welcome New York” are like a signpost stating that this is not what you think it is, and when the band crash in, it is a nice wake up call -this isn’t Max Martin, this isn’t manufactured beats -that is, indeed a real drummer. Ryan plays it like it is classic rock, like he is Tom Petty.
“Blank Space” is a song difficult to go wrong on, and Adams doesn’t come close. While I think a touch too delicate, it is a very subtle arrangement, double tracking his voice on the chorus, two guitars playing off each other, and Ryan just loves the lyric, the words roll off his tongue, quietly yet so thoughtful: you can hear the tick tick of his brain as he thinks the word, and you can’t help but admire his slightest of tweakings of the melody.
“Style” chugs like a hard rock battering ram and “Out Of The Woods” gains so much from Adams arrangement. The track, about Swift’s doomed romance with One Direction’s Harry Styles, does what Swift didn’t do: it gives completely into the pathos of the song. It is a tearjerker, “like we stood a chance, two airplanes flying…” and Ryan is so true to it, I hope Taylor does a version of his take, like Dylan does Jimi’s “All Along The Watchtower”. The song’s splendid and lovely ending, a full orchestrated soaring and sad instrumental coda, is the best moment on the album.
And that’s it.
Two songs later and every good feeling you have for Ryan disappears. “Shake It Off” was one of the most joyful songs of 2014, a self help track as a shrug of self-empowerment, witty, danceable. Taylor introduced the album with it and if you watched her live on Yahoo Music that afternoon, it was almost like a gigantic relief that everything was gonna be alright, no doubt 1989 was gonna be huge. Funning her reputation, she brought everybody to her party. Ryan sings to a metronome, doesn’t attempt the rap at all, and misreads the song entirely. Who wants a “Shake It Off” that is two thirds funeral march. Terrible.
The album never recovers.
He has lost so much good will and really, he has nothing left to do with the songs. We got the trick, the trick has stopped working and it is impossible to concentrate on him any more. I don’t even get what Ryan thinks he is up to, why is he singing “How You Get The Girl” like it is “Knocking On Heavens Door”? What is his position on the song, if he isn’t just slowing it down so we can hear it better, what is he doing? And if that is what he is doing, I compared “Bad Blood” to Peter Sellers’ “A Hard Day’s Night” a coupla days ago, but at least Sellers was joking, why drag the entire affair out so much? . Does Ryan think he is giving it depths it doesn’t have? This ain’t our first trip to the rodeo.
This is just silly. Why would Ryan do it? For the same reason he releases all those half finished songs on his Paxam EPs. Because he can. Because he thinks it is good enough when it isn’t. If you don’t like Taylor, maybe this will introduce you to her but other wise except for the first four songs, which would make a great EP, it ain’t happening. After awhile the entire concept staggers to a stand style. Why do I want to listen to slow depressing versions of songs I already own to much much better effect? Answer: I don’t.
1989 is released at midnight.