Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams (2014)


1. Gimme Something Good 2. Kim 3. Trouble 4. Am I Safe 5. My Wrecking Ball 6. Stay With Me 7. Shadows 8. Feels Like Fire 9. I Just Might 10. Tired Of Giving Up 11. Let Go


It might seem strange that Ryan waited 17 studio albums into his career to release a self-titled record (that’s not even counting the unreleased stuff!), but once you’ve made it through the first couple of tracks it starts to make total sense. See, this is the part angsty, part schlocky, all mid-tempo late ‘80s-style AOR rock album Ryan has always wanted to make. This is where his heart truly lies. All his passion projects (the Pinkhearts, III/IV, “Magick,” etc.) prove this. He’s just been held back all this time by all those stupid assholes who want him to play pussy-ass folk and country music (you know, the stuff he’s actually good at). The difference between Ryan Adams and, say, the vomitous Pinkhearts sessions, for instance, is that it’s actually catchy. Well, most of it is, anyway. Ryan has sporadically tried his hand at this type of music a number of times before, but never in a manner this effectively atmospheric, or with songs this well-written or thoughtfully arranged. Nonetheless, the album ultimately suffers from the same inherent problem that Ryan’s previous attempts at this type of tortured ‘80s mallrat rock did, thus preventing from getting anywhere near Ryan’s upper tier of releases: this style of music is fucking dumb! I mean, you have to be a real hardcore stoner and/or Morrissey fan to get “chills” from listening to this album, as Ryan claimed he did in an interview. So I guess that quote makes a whole lot of sense, actually.

So Ryan Adams began life after he decided to scrap a stylistic/spiritual follow-up to Ashes & Fire with Glyn Johns (guess all those Heartbreaker comparisons Ashes & Fire got in the press spooked him. Don’t want people thinking he’s a pussy-ass folk singer, remember). Indeed, instead of recording and releasing something his fans and critics might actually like, he decided to make an entirely new record in his own studio. Ryan described the experience thusly: “[I would] go in with a couple bros at seven o’clock and just jam. We would, like, smoke a bowl and drink some tea – and the words came free-flowing out of me.” And wouldn’t you know it, that hilariously douchey description captures the feel of this album perfectly. But I promise, it’s not nearly as bad as you might expect from just reading that quote. I swear. Why? Because there are some really, really solid hooks here. I know, the idea of Ryan Adams writing stuck-in-your-head catchy rock songs seems outlandish, but I swear it’s true. For instance, dig on the brooding yet uptempo “Trouble,” which belongs in the (admittedly very sparse) upper, upper echelons of straight ahead rock songs that Ryan has written. “Stay With Me” and “Feels Like Fire” similarly deliver with angsty/catchy choruses. Are those choruses overwrought and cheesy as hell? Yes. But I can’t resist singing along to them, dammit. Same goes for the album’s one token “sensitive singer-songwriter guy” cut, “My Wrecking Ball,” which is awfully repetitive but just as lovely.

On the rest of Ryan Adams, the period-perfect ‘80s-style echoey guitars and atmospheric synths are, unfortunately, often more distinctive than the melodies. Not to say that the album is otherwise filled with bad songs—actually I don’t think there’s a single song on here I actively dislike, which is highly unusual for a Ryan Adams album!—just middling. Like opener and lead single “Gimme Something Good,” for instance,” which is half a great tune (the chorus, specifically) and half the most underwritten, lazy, sluggish rock song in the history of civilization. Seriously, Ryan? You came up with a chorus that strong and all you could think of to pair it with was that stupid two-chord non-riff? Fuck you. Or not, whatever. You’ve done so much worse shit. In fact, I should give you a hug for making an album in this vein that I actually like. Way to go, man.

Wait, you know what’s hilarious? Johnny Depp apparently plays guitar on two songs on this album! And if that’s him playing the solo on “Kim,” well… damn! Johnny Depp can play! I can only assume that he will return the favor and allow Ryan to be in the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie. God help us all.

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