Ryan Adams releases two rockers from the vaults
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Ryan Adams has made his reputation on the low end of life. His first album was titled, appropriately, Heartbreaker, and it's rightly hailed as a landmark. Most of his best work explores the depths of loss and love, and the sound matches. He's often somber, voice cracking against an acoustic guitar or the soft cry of the pedal steel.
But not here. On III/IV, he's up and he's down, but he drives forward within the confines of his finest backing band, the Cardinals.
This album, divided up as III on one record and IV on the other, dates to sessions in 2006 and are essentially the third and fourth Cardinals records. A couple of the songs have surfaced in one form or another, while "Kisses Start Wars" borrows the "things change, people don't" refrain from the Elizabethtown Sessions' "Saturday Nights."
Though Adams made his name drifting in the sadness, first and foremost, he's a songwriter. Whatever the subject or tone, he's able to make his lyrical images fly. Here, in this snapshot of progression, he mostly left the heartache behind for bright, positive outlooks, even if they are gloriously immature. Just take one listen to "Star Wars," with its wish for "someone that loves me the way of Star Wars, wizards and ninja wars."
Through three proper albums and Adams' solo credited Easy Tiger, the trademark of the Cardinals had been their gentle touch. While that makes an occasional appearance here, the unifying sound is an up-tempo drive that recalls the Replacements or the more rousing moments in the Smiths' catalog. This was a direction that the band first revealed on Easy Tiger's "Halloween Head;” sure enough, that was recorded during the same sessions that yielded these two volumes. That track seemed like a diversion, a break from Adams' more typical work in songs like "I Taught Myself How To Grow Old." To learn that there were nearly two records of songs that had its feel, albeit not necessarily its peppiness, is a revelation.
But that's more a historical note than anything. While it's important that Adams has filled in a gap in his chronology, revealing the bridge between his trio of 2005 albums to 2007's Easy Tiger, what's really at issue is that he's unleashed 21 fantastic songs on the public. What will ultimately matter to you is that, top to bottom, this album rocks.
It can be easy to take an artist like Adams for granted — mercurial and wildly prolific, his public persona sometimes threatens to overshadow his impressively daunting body of work. This double LP will serve as another chapter in his story, which, as the years go on, will come to be defined more and more by the music than by any trivial character issues. Stories of on-stage temper tantrums and celebrity relationships will be relegated to footnotes. Records like III/IV will form the backbone.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org