Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger

Easy Tiger (2007)

B+

1. Goodnight Rose 2. Two 3. Everybody Knows 4. Halloweenhead 5. Oh My God, Whatever, Etc. 6. Tears Of Gold 7. The Sun Also Sets 8. Off Broadway 9. Pearls On A String 10. Rip Off 11. Two Hearts 12. These Girls 13. I Taught Myself How To Grow Old

 

At the risk of sounding psychoanalytic, or at least douchey, Easy Tiger marks the first time Ryan seems to have both feet planted more or less firmly in adulthood. He was sober for the first time since he was a teenager, he had a new-look Cardinals behind him (bassist Catherine Popper is gone, replaced by Chris Feinstein, and the album’s producer, Jamie Candiloro, had begun acting as the band’s full-time keyboardist) and he wasn’t going off on weird musical tangents like 29 or Love Is Hell or Rock N Roll. He’s playing it very close to the vest here and producing something resembling what critics and casual fans have wanted from him since Heartbreaker came out. You know, to be Mr. Sensitive Singer-Songwriter Guy who feigns to play a bit of rock and a bit of country now and then. Of course, in rock ‘n roll, calming down and reaching adulthood doesn’t really come with the best connotations – like “adult contemporary,” a tag Easy Tiger veers dangerously close to in places (“Two” is so adult contemporary, it even has Sheryl Crow singing backup vocals! This knowledge is probably making you want to spew everywhere, so if you’ve had enough time in between dry heaves to continue reading yet, take a deep breath and calm down because 1) she’s barely audible, 2) the song is absolutely beautiful, and 3) at least it’s not Celine Dion). But while it’s true that Tiger is probably the most conventional, least risky album Ryan had done to this point, it’s also one of his most consistently melodic and, clocking in at a mere 13 tracks in 39 minutes (downright merciful when compared to, say Love Is Hell), one of his most concise.

Let’s see… starts off with what is the most out there track on the record, “Goodnight Rose,” which begins with an overblown space rock riff and then becomes exaggeratedly twangy; with Ryan’s froggy vocal delivery, it sounds weirdly like a pompous 70s rock band like Bad Company attempting to cover a Merle Haggard song, except somehow good. It’s got that Cold Roses raggedness to it, which is something we don’t get a whole lot of on this album from the Cardinals (aside from the distractingly hyperactive drumming in the vintage Nashville waltz “Tears Of Gold”), who are now nothing if not eminently tight and professional to the point of maybe sounding a little too smooth in places.

Moving on, the single was the dunderheaded rocker “Halloweenhead,” which is probably one of the most hated Ryan Adams songs of all time. Why? Because it’s dumb and frivolous? Dude, almost every single one of Ryan’s rock songs is dumb and frivolous. At least this one bothers to sound thought out and somewhat melodic and have a sense of humor about itself – the part where Ryan cheekily shouts “Guitar solo!” before the break is genuinely funny, especially since said solo sounds more synth than guitar. It’s the only opportunity for such silliness anyway, since the rest of the album is played on grown-up instruments like acoustic guitar and piano (because that darn electric guitar is like 80 years old and still acting like a bratty teenager!). Of the quieter songs, then, the ones of most interest are probably the couple of dusty old gems Ryan dug up from the vaults and re-recorded. “Off Broadway” comes from that lost opus The Suicide Handbook, and is presented in identical fashion as it was then (two acoustic guitars, falsetto vocals). It wasn’t one of my favorites on Handbook, but that only serves to remind me that there was a glorious time around the turn of the century when I hadn’t even gotten my first email account, George W. Bush wasn’t yet the biggest disaster in American history, and Ryan was capable of writing songs as nice as this that weren’t close to the best work he was doing at the time. Slap it on almost anything he’s done since (for instance, this album) and voila! An instant highlight. Ditto for “These Girls,” which is “Hey There, Mrs. Lovely” from all the way back on Destroyer with different lyrics. Which is wonderful, because I had trouble getting past the annoying lyrics of the original, but here, with a quicker tempo and the absence of those cringe-worthy rhymes, it becomes immediately obvious what a nice song it is. Makes for a great closing sequence alongside the blatant (but beautiful) Neil Young-ery of “I Taught Myself How To Grow Old.”

Even though most of Easy Tiger doesn’t distinguish itself other than by being reliably melodic, well, it’s fucking reliably melodic. I can’t say that about very many post-Heartbreaker Ryan Adams albums. I certainly can’t say that there are very many post-Heartbreaker Ryan Adams albums that contain only one song I dislike, as is the case here (“The Sun Also Sets” can eat a dick for all I care. Especially since the title references a Hemingway novel I fucking hate. Seriously, fuck Hemingway. I bet he would like this song, the alcoholic, dialogically retarded prick). So I’ll gladly forgive the fact that there are very few surprises to be found in the arrangements, playing, or production, and the fact that the lyrics are probably more uninteresting than they’ve ever been. Oh sure, the chorus of “Two” (“It takes two when it used to take one”) instills an uncontrollable desire in me to hold my lady close and give her four thousand kisses, but if you’re single and cynical maybe it sounds simplistic and dull to you. Personally, I couldn’t care less about straightforward lyrics as long as they’re serving a strong melody. Like on the authentically banjo and mandolin-adorned bluegrass tune “Pearls On A String” – he’s not saying anything at all of substance, but my god is that song purty. How purty? If “Pearls On A String” were a woman, it would be Audrey Hepburn. If it were a painting, it would be the Mona Lisa. If it were a piece of jewelry, it would be a string of p – oh shit wait a second



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