On Twitter the other day, I saw someone pose a rhetorical question: Was Ryan Adams ahead of his time or is it just coincidence that 1000 bands sound like him now? That’s pretty funny, given that the rap on Ryan has always been that he’s too retro and/or little more than the sum of his influences. And yet he has kept on keepin’ on, building up a body of work and a presence to the point that it seems like every emotional singer-songwriter who comes along nowadays is “RIYL Ryan Adams.” I must see that description several times a week, at least.
One such act following in Ryan’s wake is Ed Sheeran, a young singer-songwriter who is still more popular in his native England than in America (although touring as Taylor Swift’s opening act this year should raise his U.S. profile a good bit). Oddly enough, it almost seems like he’s shadowing Ryan. Sheeran was on the Grammy Awards telecast last month playing with Elton John, one of Ryan’s big fans and benefactors; and while Sheeran has yet to cover a Ryan song as far as I know, he did cover Oasis’ “Wonderwall” — a song Ryan also covered (and earned a Grammy nomination for) a decade ago on Love Is Hell.
So here, give ‘em a comparison. Which version do you like better: Ed’s, or Ryan’s? I don’t pretend to be an impartial observer here, and I do find both quite pleasant. Nevertheless, I do feel like Ryan’s version has…more there there. Ed’s version is nice enough, a pretty rendition of a song I like; it’s almost placid. Meanwhile, Ryan’s “Wonderwall” has more raw emotion, revealing pockets of shell-shocked despair not to be found in either the Oasis original or Sheeran’s cover.
It ain’t easy, being the Next Ryan Adams. But Sheeran appears to be managing: His “Wonderwall” has more than 3.7 million Youtube views.