Ryan Adams – Rock N Roll

Rock N Roll (2003)


1. This Is It 2. Shallow 3. 1974 4. Wish You Were Here 5. So Alive 6. Luminol 7. Burning Photographs 8. She’s Lost Total Control 9. Note To Self: Don’t Die 10. Rock N Roll 11. Anybody Wanna Take Me Home? 12. Do Miss America 13. Boys 14. The Drug’s Not Working


Aimed straight for the bulging nutsack of mainstream rock radio, which back in 2003 was populated by the delightful likes of Trapt, Linkin Park, and Jet. I know what it was like, man. I was there. Shit, I even owned a Linkin Park album! I was so young and foolish, so hip to the groove. Now I’m an elderly old bag of wrinkles who enjoys listening to Norah Jones and drinking ginger tea. Where oh where has my youth gone so soon? Fortunately, this album brings it all flooding back. Or at least some of it. Mainly the parts when I would listen to the Morning Zoo show on Z100 during breakfast before school and, if I was lucky, one of the songs they played would be “HEADSTROOOOONG, I TAKE YOU OOOOOOON… HEADSTROOOOOONG, I TAKE ON ANYONE.” Man, those were the days.

Of course, nobody who listened to Z100 in 2003 wanted to hear rock music made by anyone who didn’t look like a skinhead, so Rock N Roll never quite reached an audience that may have been somewhat receptive to it, leaving it to be judged and dissected by bitter Whiskeytown/Heartbreaker fans still hoping for Ryan’s long-awaited alt-country masterpiece. The reception, needless to say, was not good. Nor will it be from me. Of course, critics at the time were bashing Ryan for erroneous shit like being “insincere” or being “contemptuous of his audience,” to paraphrase a couple of sentences I just read in two reviews contemporary to the album’s release. I, on the other hand, judge it harshly mainly because the music sucks. This is just not a good strain of rock music. I shall now for the very first time, and hopefully the last, coin a subgenre: I’ll call it “lowest common denominator rock” (really rolls of the tongue, huh? I’m sure it’ll catch on). Not much to it except, “maybe if we play loud enough we’ll start kicking ass! Hey, everyone, listen to how fucking LOUD we are!” One-dimensional drumming emphasizing the TWO and FOUR beats SO GODDAMNED URGENTLY that I’m close to giving using even numbers forever. Blaring, processed guitars playing ugly, dissonant chords but no riffs. Crap raspy vocals. Faux-cocky, half-baked lyrics about drugs and fucking. Dinosaur Jr.’s “Don’t” is a masterpiece of subtly and nuance compared to how crassly straightforward and indistinguishable a lot of this stuff is (and no, I’m not counting the insufferable “dramatic” quiet section of the single “So Alive,” which, for all my bitching, is probably the only song on here that legitimately wouldn’t feel out of place on a record by Staind or Nickelback. Blech). It all just blends together into one clamoring mass that won’t so much outrageously offend your ears as it will pummel them into numbness and submission. I guess if you love loud guitars but don’t care if they’re playing anything coherent or catchy, than you’ll be all about this album. I seriously cannot imagine that any of these songs took more than ten minutes to write. They’re just so dumb and uncatchy and boring and ugly and JIGGLY BOOBS.

Sorry. I thought I might have been getting too mean so I inserted something more pleasant into my description.

OK, so not everything sounds like it was supposed to compete with all the crap bands I’ve been name checking. There are a couple of nods to decadent 70s arena rock (erm, “1974”), and a definite 80s New Wave influence throughout. But there are just too many problems with this album, namely the fact that it doesn’t have any good songs on it. Oh sure, there are a couple near the end that I might not skip if they were on a good album. Plus I’m 90% sure “Burning Photographs” is a completely decent mid-tempo rock tune, and I may or may not have briefly gotten what is supposed to be the chorus of “Luminol” stuck in my head once. That would make it one of only two songs on here that have distinguishing enough features for me to remember them after they end. The other would be “1974.” Why? Because it’s the only song on here with an actual riff. And what does that riff sound like? Almost exactly like a slowed down version of the riff from “Vertigo” by UMotherFucking2! HAHAHAHAHA!! Please tell me U2 intentionally ripped off “Vertigo” from this suckjob Ryan Adams album. That would make me so happy, I might shit a puppy.

I have no idea if Ryan thought doing this kind of rock music would break him through to a wider audience, or if he just so desperately wanted to ROCK OUT AND KICK ASS that he just started bashing out the first poor ass shit he could think of. Or, as many of hypothesized, it was a deliberate sabotage to get back at Lost Highway for mishandling the material that was consolidated into Demolition and the album he intended to be released after it, Love Is Hell. I don’t really care either way. I have no right to try to fence him in. He can play any style he wants for any reason he wants. But that doesn’t mean I have to listen to it. In this case, you shouldn’t either.

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