Review: Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams’ latest solo album, Ryan Adams is, well, more Ryan Adams. Fans have undoubtedly been looking forward to another solo album from the highly prolific singer and songwriter, particularly since he has only been putting out music through his own label, PAX AM, since 2010, thereby ensuring his artistic freedom. While the album is solid, with alt-country tinged rock songs, with both electric and acoustic elements, longtime fans will recognize the overall sound and mood of the album as roads Adams has travelled before, many times.
As difficult as it is to fault a man who has, as a solo act and with his bands Whiskeytown and the Cardinals, put out thirteen albums, the sound and feel of his latest endeavor lacks innovation or anything remotely fresh.
Some of the tracks do stand out, namely “My Wrecking Ball,” an acoustic number in which he invites a lost love to “come and maybe knock me down,” as his walls need to crumble. He’s feeling typical Ryan Adams alienation, as he is lying in bed alone and says, “I wish I could call you, I wish you were still around.” His voice sounds genuinely vulnerable, and less melodramatic than in some of his previous work. The track verges on being one that could have belonged on Heartbreaker (2000), his first solo album that is his strongest to date.
Along with “My Wrecking Ball,” Adams released “Gimme Something Good” and “Tired of Giving Up” before the album’s September 9, 2014 release. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, starred in the video of “Gimme Something Good,” standing around spookily while Adams moodily meandered through the black and white, foggy video. He longs for “something good,” as he finds himself “holding everything I have like it was broken.” The rock guitar riffs are reminiscent of Joan Jett in the 1980s, yet the grit of the rock is layered with a funereal organ in the background.
Adams is weary, as he proclaims in “Tired of Giving Up,” which is the main gist of the lyrically thin track in which he is tired of giving up, lying, and trying, though he hints at a possible way out – “Suppose I try to love you” – yet nothing is resolved; no happiness at all finds its way into this album.
Ryan is angsty. Even as he acknowledges love, in “Shadows,” he pessimistically wonders, “How long do I have here with you?” He knows the bittersweet side of love is that it is not guaranteed to last, and togetherness can never be counted on as being permanent. Adams married actress and singer Mandy Moore in 2009, and given his troubled past which has been well-documented in the media, one can’t help but wish him a happy ending and love. Adams, however, knows that we can only save ourselves.
That Adams turns 40 in November and is married doesn’t show much in the album. He focuses on loss in “Feels Like Fire,” telling a lover “Just so you know, you will always be the hardest thing I will ever let go” and hints at betrayal, singing, “The light reflecting in your eyes is not what it seems.” Also, his chest is on fire, in line with the fire and burning imagery that pervades the album. He also laments lost love in “Kim,” who, “walking down the street, I watched you walk away, to be with him.” Even in love, he wonders in “Am I Safe” whether he is, in fact, safe if “I don’t wanna be with you” and tells his lover “It’s complicated, I just don’t love you anymore / I just wanna sit here and watch it burn.”
In the lyrically thin track “Stay with Me,” Adams does reach out to his lover for comfort, asking her to “Hold me closer in the middle of the night,” reassures her, and declares, “I love you girl, it’s all right.” Similarly, he asks his lover in the 1980s Don Henleyesque “Let Go,” “Cross your fingers behind your back and lie to me / Tell me everything’s gonna be all right” This is as close to happiness as Adams will reveal. Perhaps he is more comfortable sharing his troubled side with his fans. Or, perhaps, this is Adams’ perspective on the world – dark, uncertain, and tenuous, wherein happiness is an illusion.
It’s almost too easy to make light of Adams’ emotional turmoil, as it seems heavy-handed as the album progresses. Of course, if a listener is in a miserable relationship, is lonely, and/or jaded by love, this album is a perfect soundtrack for misery. Heartbreaker was the musical sound of a heart breaking and broken; the emotion was raw and real. The songs of Ryan Adams seem to be a diluted continuation of the same.
Musically, the songs are strong and much what listeners expect from Adams. Though they will likely wish to hear and feel something new, his sound and lyrics emains the same.
- Gimme Something Good
- Am I Safe
- My Wrecking Ball
- Stay With Me
- Feels Like Fire
- I Just Might
- Tired of Giving Up
- Let Go
Overall rating: 8/10
Tracey K. Parker is a college English instructor who earned her PhD from the University of Arkansas. The focus of her research is popular culture in literature. She also has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri. Her creative work has been published in PRISM, and she is co-editor of Control Literary Magazine.