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SPINfighting: What Album Should Ryan Adams Cover Next?

Whose name shall we write in the blank space?

As the roundtable format has grown into an effectively direct way for a publication to think out loud for its readers’ perusal, we present SPINfighting, a new column where the SPIN staff will debate about a new wrinkle in the musical landscape every week. This week, Ryan Adams released his most-talked about album in years, if not ever: a full-length recreation of Taylor Swift’s 2014 pop skyrocket 1989 as reverberating alt-country. We discussed what album he should reinterpret next.

Andrew Unterberger: Tempting to choose the latest albums by Drake and the Weeknd for this, since it’s not hard to see Ryan connecting to their simultaneous sense of vulnerability and self-defeating machismo. But do we really need another album of ballads from Ryan Adams — as covering one of those sad bastards would undoubtedly result in — right now? I’d rather he take on something soulful but legitimately upbeat, something that gets him to unleash more of the punk and power pop inclinations he showcased so spellbindingly on 1984 and Ryan Adams last year, maybe something that lets us see if there’s any funk hiding in his jean-jacket pockets. Emerging disco don Shamir’s debut LP Ratchet may make for some awkward lyrical translations, but if the singer/songwriter can find a way to “Shake It Off,” he shouldn’t have any problem making “On the Regular” his own. (As long as he doesn’t harm a hair on “Don’t try me / I’m not a free sample” — that’s non-negotiable.) Shamir’s proven highly capable of the cross-genre cover himself with his takes on Miranda Lambert and Joyce Manor, time to see if it goes the other way, too.

Rachel Brodsky: Ryan Adams may have just unveiled a full cover album of Taylor Swift’s synth-pop opus, but let us not forget 1984, the Replacements-punk-inspired record he dropped in August of last year (or, for that matter, his 2010 metal sci-fi concept album, Orion). The unexpectedly versatile troubadour, who has typically favored folk and alt-country for the bulk of his 15-year career with the Cardinals and solo, can and should continue to explore his louder side, perhaps by tackling a ska-punk staple like Rancid’s snotty hookfest …And Out Come the Wolves. With its shamelessly chipper roots-reggae upstrokes and swaggering, slurring vocal delivery, the 20-year-old touchstone is pure Adams bait. Tried-and-true chord progressions? Check. Meaty lyrics (“Do you know where the power lies / It starts and ends with you”)? Yes. A chance to rejigger said guitar-lines to fit Adams’ winding, weepy vision? Yep. If you’re not convinced, scope this lyric and tell me if reads more Adams or Tim Armstrong (no Googling): “He was an artist and a writer / And a poet and a friend / In a man’s life he will take a fall / But how low he goes it just depends.”

Harley Brown: If Taylor Swift is Adams’ soul, his spirit animal, his raison d’être, then Lana Del Rey is who won’t let him forget how amazing it could be to have one last fling before he really commits — and so he should tackle LDR’s polarizing cult-classic debut, Born to Die. Del Rey is the reason he divorced Mandy Moore (full disclosure: this is factually unverified and best read as a metaphor), the dark spirit that billows like smoke from the cracks in his perpetually broken heart. On a more serious note, can you imagine the drawl that he’d level on “Blue Jeans?” That song was practically written for Adams’ softie Marlboro Man shtick. Plus, it’s nearly as titillating waiting for his mashup of Gangster Born to Die’s bonus track “Lucky Ones” and Adams’ own “Lucky One,” as it was counting down the Twitter videos of his 1989 works-in-progress.

Colin Joyce: If Ryan Adams is mostly trying to stick with contemporary faves, why not tackle the work of his beloved Power Trip, whose t-shirt he occasionally wears at shows and whom he’s been known to casually refer to as “f–king awesome”? The ’80s thrash-leaning Texas quintet released Manifest Decimation back in 2013, and it’s still one of the best retrogazing metal albums in recent memory, a bloodstained document that draws equally from spittle-spewing hardcore acts as it does Slayer deep cuts. Adams has always trumpeted his love for metal, so maybe some opiated renditions of crossover punk tracks would highlight the connections between his sleepy heartbreak and the tortured work that inspires it.

Dan Weiss: As Ryan Adams is the ultimate breakthrough in self-pitying white dude technology, my instinct was to put some corrective base in his acid, some shake in his habitual. Ergo the Knife’s 2013 swan song Shaking the Habitual would be just the thing to get him out of those tear-soggy post-divorce overalls and set his post-Springsteen warble to such useful axioms as “Let’s talk about gender, baby!” and “I’m ready to lose a privilege.” Especially eager to hear his rootsy, pre-ripped take on “Fracking Fluid Injection”  he can enlist help from the seagulls on the 1989 cover! Bonus: the built-in 20 minutes of him shutting up.