There was a time in my life when Ryan Adams could do no wrong. ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Gold’, ‘Demolition’, ‘Love Is Hell’ were all just phenomenal records and had a huge impact on me as a music fan and musician. I will never forget the first time I heard ‘New York, New York’, it was at Christmas time. As a result I seem to listen to his music much more in autumn and winter. Funny how the subconscious works. After Love is Hell though, and mostly due to his incredible output of material, I have struggled with his work. It really has been hit and miss for quite some time and not in any solid album form. Cold Roses, with the Cardinals, would be the highlight of the albums that followed but there was not enough quality on offer with albums more than likely to be generally patchy with some absolutely gems to be found in amongst the obvious and safe. Possibly this is inevitable when you are firing out albums left, right and centre. I read an interesting piece with Tom Petty recently – to highlight my point about volume of releases, Petty is 63 and has 16 studio albums to his name, Adams is 39 and has 14 – about how he was told at the outset that sometimes the album you create will be like hitting a home run in baseball and sometimes it won’t, and that this is the nature of creating music. Sometimes it just clicks and is brilliat and sometimes you cannot achieve that. I think Adams has suffered from these ups and downs in his career and whilst prolific in terms of song writing, perhaps there is an argument that sometimes it is best to take your time and release only the very best things. Of course, the flip side to this argument is that his fans love him and lap up the fact that he feeds them new music on a regular basis. So perhaps he is to be applauded for such an approach? There is no right and wrong answer here. Just an interesting ramble on quality versus quantity and in my opinion, the quality of his work has suffered for the quantity and speed of releases. Interestingly, it’s been 3 years since his last studio album ‘Ashes and Fire’ – an overall disappointing record with some lovely tunes, following the pattern of releases since Love is Hell. These 3 years represent the longest period between any of his records since Gold and Love is Hell – Rock n Roll was in between those but we know that this record was not the planned follow up to Gold – a long story for another day. My point is this – ‘Ryan Adams’ is a triumph and I would say probably all the better for the time it has taken to be produced and released.
As a starting point, I would suggest that the record sounds a bit like ‘Demolition’ but produced and influenced by The War on Drugs. From the opening bars of ‘Gimme Something Good’ it’s clear that this is going to be a rocking album with the grungey electric guitars, catchy vocal hooks and 80s sounding drums. It sets the tone perfectly in the same way that ‘Nuclear’ did back in 2002. And it’s funny, because, although an album of out takes and b-sides, I always had a soft spot for ‘Demolition’. It says everything about the mans song writing skills that ‘Demolition’ stood up on its own as an album and still, in my opinion, contains some of his finest songs.
There is a familiar 80s sound to much of ‘Ryan Adams’ highlighted to perfection on ‘Stay With Me’, where the lead up to the chorus could have been written by one Jon Bon Jovi (seriously). That’s not a criticism in any way, (we all love Bon Jovi really), because it’s one of the best tracks on the record. For me, stand outs would be ‘Am I Safe’, the wonderful ‘Wrecking Ball’ which sees Adams at his finest, the sublime ‘Shadows’ and ‘Tired of Giving Up’. If you want to rock out though then just turn on ‘Trouble’ and turn it up loud.
It’s a pretty brave record in many ways. It’s not really what fans of Ryan Adams would be expecting. In fact, for many people it will border too close to “stadium rock” for comfort. I guess for me this album highlights everything that I loved/love about Ryan Adams. His versatility as a musician is incredible. His ability to produce a record like Heartbreaker all those years ago, to morph and change record by record. To release an album like Rock N Roll and then do something like Jacksonville City Nights which could not be more different, is testament to his ability and longevity as a musician. Ryan Adams represents another change in direction and embraces the sound of today. It is different and yet familiar. But above all, it is just a fine record that showcases Adams talents as a songwriter and producer. And when he is at his best there are few out there that can live with him. This is not going to be many peoples album of the year, that’s for sure, but it’s a welcome return to form and a real contender to make my end of year list. And the best bit about this record is that it takes me back to 2001, listening to Gold over and over and over. Falling in love with an artist in my bedroom. In this new world of music, where there is so much to process, sometimes it’s nice to have that familiar voice from your late teens/early 20s return and remind you why music is so fucking important to you. I have been searching for that feeling of late and a few artists have managed to get me there this year. The War on Drugs, Sharon Van Etten and now Ryan Adams. If you are a fan. You will love this record. I guarantee it.