Over a recording career that has spanned nearly 20 years, Ryan Adams has often appeared to playing a series of parts in his own career. We got the alt-country wunderkind (Whiskeytown), the rootsy Americana darling (Heartbreaker, Ashes and Fire), heartland all-American rocker (Gold), mopey troubadour (Love Is Hell, 29) and so on and on through a myriad of genres spanning country, metal and hardcore punk. So almost three years after his last album, having ditched one attempt at a follow up, would this self- titled album finally reveal the ‘real’ Ryan Adams?
Not on the evidence of this taut collection of songs. The eleven tracks featured here stick to a template of shimmery electric guitars, accompanied by Benmont Tench’s yearning keyboards and ‘piano weirdness’. A somewhat dated sound, reminiscent of late 80s Tom Petty, Don Henley but especially Lloyd Cole’s wonderful debut album. Adams’ has a patchy record with opening songs, and here Gimme Something Good sounds, on first listen, like a slightly cheesey rawker. That is, until you notice Adams’ jangly guitar part under the riffs.
From there it gets rather good. Kim is anchored by a deceptively simple guitar part, accompanied by Tench’s keyboards, and the strummed electric guitars of Trouble will appeal very much to those who enjoyed his underrated 2003 album Love Is Hell. Even better is the insistent, deliberate strum of Am I Safe, with a wonderful, almost Johnny Marr-like solo midsong. Those who favour his solo debut Heartbreaker (ie the critics) will find much to love in the acoustic My Wrecking Ball which could have crawled off the aforementioned album.
Stay With Me and Feels Like Fire are fairly calculated arena fist-pumpers but they seldom deviate from the middle of that particular road. Far better is the bleak, brooding yet anthemic Shadows. Here we’re staring moodily out the window, with Ryan Adams belting out lyrics about “the darkness of her room” and “cold front rolls in like a black balloon” over echoey guitar as the drums pound. It feels like the central track on the album, wrapped up in mystery and, yes, shadows. I Just Might starts with a sparse, pulsing electric guitar, evoking Bruce Springsteen’s State Trooper before building up to a great big dumb mid 80s chorus (“I MIIIGGGHHHTTTT!”).
Penultimate track Tired of Giving Up gives a fair go at summing up the album, both lyrically and sonically. The lyrics are all about being “tired of giving up so easy” which is a fair reflection on Adams’ recording career, littered as it is with scrapped albums for one reason or another. After all, “nobody said it would be easy”. The song is a good one to choose to represent the sound of the album, sounding innocuous and pretty at first, but gradually the insistent choruses and twangy, jangly guitars get under your skin. Benmont Tench’s piano and Adams’ ultra-shimmery guitar round off final track Let Go. If this really IS Ryan Adams, we should look forward to plenty more albums like this. Dated, maybe, but dated in a really good way. However, true to form this is his latest ‘part’. I expect a 180 degree turn next.
1. Gimme Something Good
4. Am I Safe
5. My Wrecking Ball
6. Stay With Me
8. Feels Like Fire
9. I Just Might
10. Tired of Giving Up
11. Let Go