Ryan Adams ‘Ryan Adams’ – Review

19 Sep

If you could sum up Ryan Adam’s impressively vast and varied recording output in just one word, it’s there in the title of his debut album. ‘Heartbreaker’. This is music about heartbreak that sounds heartbroken and seduces the listener in to a feeling of heartbreak. Few possess a voice as persuasive as Adams‘; a voice that is capable of convincing you, luring you and sometimes tricking you in to a sense of lovelorn sadness. This awful but essential emotion is the glue connecting all the elements of a Ryan Adams record – and that’s EVERY SINGLE ONE of his records. The current album is always stylistically different to the one that proceeds it but you can guarantee there will be heartbreak gluing everything together.

This is equally true of Adam’s 14th studio album, this self titled effort. Although it is the first record to bear his name in the title, it is no more or less confessional than any other Ryan Adams album. It could easily be called ’Cold Roses’ or ’Gold’ or ’Easy Tiger’. Or ’Heartbreaker’. The songwriting is typical of the songwriter; tunes that rely on gutsy emotions, simple storytelling with vivid details and bags of sugar-coated melancholy. Even the song titles are typically his: Here we have ‘Wreckin Ball’ instead of ‘Answerin Bell’, ‘Kim’ instead of ‘Amy’, and ‘Let it Go’ instead of ‘Let It Ride’. That isn’t a put down. Adams is a restless and curious musician but he recognises his strengths, and this latest album plays to them. As a collection of songs, it is his best effort since 2008’s ’Easy Tiger’ and you’d have to go back even further to find a better produced collection of his tunes.

After 2011’s tame, oh so nice and ineffectual ’Fire and Ashes’ and 2009’s rigid and hard-rocking ‘Cardinology’ ‘Ryan Adams’ sounds at once more edgy and impactful than anything he’s made in the last ten years. On Cardinology ‘Gimmine Something Good’ would have been treated as a piece of wooden classic rock, played with absolute professionalism by a Cardinals band way past caring. As performed by his new band, ‘Gimmie Something Good’ sounds energetic and filled with passion Adams and his band sound excited by the possibility or rock n roll for the first time in quite a while. Elsewhere the songs are given a mid-80s FM rock sound that would recall Tom Petty or The Boss if it weren’t for the fact that they sound so much like Ryan Adams – despite sounding different to what he‘s done in the past. This retro element of the record has been overstated by some reviewers, but the pillowy drum sounds, reverb and textured guitars are obviously the biggest diversion from the typical Ryan Adams formula, whatever that is. But it doesn’t sound like a step in to unknown territory, in fact it feels like a natural progression.

It’s not a flawless record by any stretch, no Ryan Adams album ever is. Like every one of his releases since ‘Gold’ It’s top heavy to the extreme. Around the middle it gets clogged up by stodgy, middle of the road rock numbers like ‘Shadows’ and ‘Feels like Fire’ two songs that seem to stand almost stationary, content to mope in black and white. It picks up at the end, ‘Tired of Giving Up’ is a heartfelt performance that emphasises Adam’s astonishingly rich voice, while ‘Let It Go’ resolves some emotional lose ends whilst keeping things on enough of a cliff hanger to assure you of more heartbreak to come next time around. The album’s best song, by a country mile, is the one that harks back to the original ‘Heartbreaker’ template. ‘My Wreckin Ball’ sees Adams left almost entirely alone with an acoustic guitar, pleading to a girl with a sometimes faint and raw voice. ‘Wont you come and maybe knock me down.’ It’s a level above the similar but far too polite acoustic songs on ‘Ashes and Fire’ and it reminds you that in most senses Ryan Adams is still at his best when he strips everything back. Which isn’t to say that ‘Ryan Adams’ isn’t a success, because it is. He’s built up a new sound that is distinctive whilst remaining referential and comfortable. As he suggests on ‘My Wreckin Ball’, next time it might be a good idea to ‘knock it down’ and sing a few songs with an acoustic by the bonfire of rubble.



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