Remember on Gold – the album that really announced Ryan Adams to the world (if you think about the inclusion of songs from that on movie soundtracks, if you think that people were still just catching up with Heartbreaker and/or Whiskeytown, often after hearing Gold) – he had this trick of using/reusing his own version of the opening drum feel from The Band’s song, The Weight? Well here, on this self-titled album, a self-conscious “comeback”/return after three years away (several lifetimes in Ryan Adams years) that trick is repeated. Except it’s not The Band and it’s not a drum feel. It’s Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers circa Damn The Torpedoes/Hard Promises and it’s the guitar sound, the strut, swagger, overall feel – but particularly that guitar sound. Lawyers might even want to look closely at the shape of album opener, Gimme Something Good, and – to a lesser degree – Trouble and Stay With Me.
Just enough of the mercurial though – calling Adams out for lifting here from Petty isn’t just petty, it’d be like calling The War on Drugs on their recreating/revarnishing of several Chris Rea/Fleetwood Mac appropriations on their latest album – dammit, they’re basically intentional musical malapropisms – it’s tribute/form of musical flattery that’s rooted in being a nerd record-collector, a close-listener.
What’s funnier on this album is that halfway through Adams offers My Wrecking Ball. Which, after Jason Isbell has spent a small handful of solo albums re-crafting a certain kind of Ryan Adams song, feels almost exactly like Adams writing a Jason Isbell song (that possibly started its life out as some kind of Ryan Adams song anyway).
Apart from that little acoustic ballad the feel of Ryan Adams (the album) is largely similar to Rock’n’Roll – that most maligned album*, the start of the realisation that this musical magpie might need to slow down a little, might need to stop swilling back on the Ritalin and Red Bulls, might want to fix his fucking guitar tone! Well, Ryan Adams (the album) sounds like Rock’n’Roll (the album) with a great, great guitar sound. And though he’s stopped, er, dragging his heart around in his songs – and doesn’t have all that much to say here, as such – it kinda sounds fantastic.
I can say this because you see I gave up caring about Ryan Adams years ago. So if you’ve been one of those fans that’s found something fantastic in almost everything he’s done then you might well be a bit disappointed with this I guess. And as your palms moisten and your breathing increases to the state that spittle is popping off out the mouth with each exhale – that’s how you spot the true Ryan Adams fans you see – you might worry about this and that track and this MOR sound. But this MOR sound is better than most of what Adams has offered in years I reckon.
When he was pumping out three records a year I just couldn’t give a shit. Didn’t have the time to care, to delve, to decide that it all worked, or that on balance enough of it did for him to still be some sort of here.
No, I like the Ryan Adams that makes one album every three years far better. I like the Ryan Adams of Ryan Adams far more than I thought I might.
It’s safe-hands stuff really, nothing to rave about – but rather immaculate. Perfectly conceived. Great, great guitar sound, perfect record-collection pop. His voice still has something. The songs feel, well, like songs. And that’s always a giant bonus these days.
Perhaps he got sick of Jason Isbell making the best Ryan Adams records around and decided to step back up and give it a go. He’ll fuck it up with far too many side-line projects and a glut of old previously-unreleased/should have stayed that way bits and pieces. But Ryan Adams (the album) is the best thing Ryan Adams (the insomniac) has made not just in three years but in most of the last decade. Actually. Rock’n’roll.
* Always kinda liked Rock’n’Roll you know, a bit shit and scrappy but the last Ryan Adams album to really mean anything at all. And at least he sounded like he was trying. Often far too much of course. As such a sign of (so many) things to come…