Ryan Adams sounds relaxed and recharged on his new album
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
There are a couple of ways to listen to the new Ryan Adams album. The listener can come in with a knowledge of the years that the artist has run through, from the ridiculously prolific outpouring of music to the fights with record labels, sketchy touring history, blinding shows, backpedaling from the spotlight and finally, the present, where we find this record.
An album can only really work if it can stand alone, though, so for the listeners who will come in blind to the 11 songs on Ryan Adams, what they’ll find are 11 perfectly crafted rock and roll gems, some polished to shine and others left with the edges raw ready to cut.
Come in with either vantage point, and it’s hard not to be moved. Listen to Adams as he perilously makes his way through “Shadows,” all muted drums and textured guitars and vocals in a soaring whisper above the music, asking, “how long do I wait for you?” Then the guitar breaks through the cloud, cutting the song in half and eventually resolving into the same cathartic release Sonic Youth records used to provide.
This is the textured rock and roll statement that he’s shied away from making since Love Is Hell more than a decade ago. Since then, there have been genre exercises sprinkled into this more countrified work with the Cardinals, and his solo reemergence after a couple of years away from the scene, his first real break from the glare of the listeners’ eyes since before Whiskeytown. There was great music in that time span, but nothing like this.
And so he’s back, and when he sings about “Kim,” the sounds are that of those Smiths records he loved so much, with his narrator wandering lost and wondering where he’s supposed to be and if he fits in with the ideal he’s created for himself.
It’s not as if this is his only work this year. He’s been writing and performing songs, playing tracks that won’t be on this record and releasing independent singles on top of that. So it’s safe to assume that this document, adorned on the cover by only his face and name, is a picture of him and his art as it stands today, as he wants to be seen.
And the mood isn’t all dour. The opening “Gimme Something Good” finds the singer positive and combative, not content to just lie back and accept the losing hand and determined to turn every situation around. On “Feels Like Fire,” the mood and rhythms tick up and Adams sounds emboldened. Even on “My Wrecking Ball,” he’s contemplative in a way that still finds him at peace with reality, albeit less than satisfied. And maybe that’s the best spot to place Ryan Adams the artist in 2014.
With the benefit of time, it’s easier to start placing moments in the catalog in their proper perspective and see where, exactly, the timeline is taking us. In 2011, Ashes and Fire was his reintroduction into the record world, a set of songs written as he found his way back from the tremors of hearing loss and finding his place. Three years later, he’s back playing with a band and feeling comfortable in his own denim jacket as he makes the music he wants to make.
Here, then, is the latest chapter in his story. It’s here for us to listen to, digest, argue about and listen to some more. The songs will fill setlists and theaters on tour, it will be slid into playlists and mix CDs by fans and they’ll eventually become the mile markers for whatever stage this may become.
Until then, though, this is the latest Ryan Adams album, presented for our listening pleasure, warts and all even after all the production. The future can be speculated and the past can be looked upon, but the present is here to enjoy. Adams, obviously, likes where he’s at right this moment.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org