Release Date: Sep 9, 2014
Record label: Blue Note
Genre(s): Alt-Country, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
Head here to submit your own review of this album. At 39 years of age, Ryan Adams has now been putting out music for more than half of his life (his debut record with Whiskeytown, Faithless Street was released in 1995), with his currently tally standing at 14 solo studio albums (as well as a plethora of EPs and rarities). An impressive stat; especially when it's coupled with the fact that the three years between this record and his last full length, Ashes and Fire, is his longest spell without release.
Ryan AdamsRyan Adams(PAX-AM/Blue Note)4.5 out of 5 stars It’s always tricky to read too much into an album’s title, but when an artist puts something out that’s self-titled, the implication, whether it’s intended or not, is that the music contained therein is a good representation of where that artist stands in his career and his life. Since Ryan Adams has always been an artist who’s been particularly hard to pin down due to the frequency and variety of his releases, his own new self-titled album really should pique the interest of both his diehard fans and those who might have checked out some time after the original hype. It’s a good thing then that Adams has checked in with his most focused and potent album in years.
At a 2002 concert, Ryan Adams famously (and understandably) reacted angrily upon hearing a request for ‘Summer Of ’69’. With this 14th album, he’s asking for trouble – much of it sounds like something his Canadian near-namesake could have released in the mid-’80s. Moody opener ‘Gimme Something Good’ and ‘Trouble’ smack also of Tom Petty, but the stripped-back yet sumptuous ‘Kim’ could be an offcut from Bryan Adams’ 1987 album ‘Into The Fire’.
Even the most prolific artists need a break and so it was with Ryan Adams. After a great burst of creativity that resulted in four albums' worth of material in two years -- Orion plus the double-LP III/IV in 2010, followed by Ashes & Fire in 2011 –- Adams took a three-year hiatus, dabbling in side projects and productions, breaking up his longtime backing band the Cardinals, and eventually re-emerging in 2014 with a self-titled album. The old canard says an eponymous album released well into a career suggests a rebirth, and that's somewhat true of Ryan Adams, which largely ditches the Dead obsessions, ragged country-rock, and occasional noise squall for precision-tuned audio straight out of 1981.
It seems a long time ago now that more than a few people were a little concerned about Ryan Adams. As he now heads towards a 40th birthday that some doubted he’d ever see, it’s easy to forget that less than 10 years ago he was a bit of a car crash, becoming so stringed out on booze and drugs that he ended up breaking his wrist when falling offstage in Liverpool, dating a succession of unlikely starlets and pretty much jettisoning the idea of quality control as he seemingly embarked on a personal crusade to release as many albums as humanly possible. Since then, Adams has settled down and this self-titled album – his 14th in as many years – comes a whole three years after the creative rebirth of Ashes & Fire, his longest ever break between albums.
Three years is pretty much the industry standard gap between releases for the Rock ‘n’ Roll elite, but for Ryan Adams a 36-month drought is weird. Eerie. Unnatural. A real disturbance in the force. You almost feel obliged to knock on his front door and check he’s okay. This was, after all ….
Somewhere, right now, sitting on a hard drive is a Glyn Johns-produced Ryan Adams record featuring an all-star backing band. It joins a half-dozen other unreleased Adams albums the musician has scrapped or shelved for a litany of reasons over the years. Instead, Adams opted to self-produce his appropriately self-titled 14th solo album. The move should come as no surprise to Adams' patient fans, who have watched him rack up a trove of unreleased material over his career.Ryan Adams doesn't veer far from what we might have expected, however.
Everything sounds hard and constricted on the new Ryan Adams album. Curt bursts of guitar stiffen the songs, while the beat keeps a tense, steady grind. Adams sings with the kind of yearning that borders on a plea. It’s a different sound for Adams, a feat considering he has put out 14 solo albums in as many years.
One of the inescapable truths of being a recording artist is that in order to achieve a genuinely unblemished back catalogue you either need to opt for scarcity in terms of the frequency of your releases or - alternatively - die young, before the law of diminishing returns has chance to take serious hold. It’s something that Ryan Adams has doubtless wrestled with, given that his work ethic has never been anything less than prodigious; the fact that, at just shy of three years, the gap between 2011’s Ashes & Fire and this new, self-titled effort is the longest absence of his career so far testifies to the ferocity of his studio activity over the past decade or so. I raise that point also, though, because whilst most of Adams’ canon can reasonably be considered to be rock music - as breezily as the ‘alternative country’ label, whatever it means, is so often applied to his work - he’s only ever really made one straight-down-the-line rocker to date - the much-maligned Rock n Roll, back in 2003.
In an interview with The New York Times, Ryan Adams explains that his self-titled LP is not the album he initially intended to release, but rather his answer to making a record deemed “too sad” by Capitol Records after he presented an effort to cope with the loss of his grandmother. For a prolific singer-songwriter like Adams, one who recently released a surprise punk album (1984), one who has shared a concept metal album (Orion), and one whose albums have juked from essential (Heartbreaker) to avoidable (Rock n Roll), the idea of him holding back a release due to it being too sad is surprising to say the least. It has also allowed Adams to make one of the most comforting, mature, and fully realized albums of his career.
Much has been made of the fact that Ryan Adams last released an album three years ago. While that’s true, the underlying implication that his pace has slowed is misleading. Sure, Adams once put out three LPs in one year, and managed an impressive 10 albums between 2000-08. But it’s not as if he set music aside after 2011’s Ashes & Fire to play vintage pinball machines and tweet cat photos.
It's impossible for anyone but Ryan Adams to say whether or not his new album is symbolically self-titled. It sure seems that way..
Review Summary: Ryan Adams is as Ryan Adams does. At a little under three years, the gap between Ryan Adams and 2011’s Ashes & Fire is the longest wait for new material in the prodigious singer-songwriter’s career. While in earlier reviews of Ryan Adams’ material I have described his creative drive as helpfully providing “something for everyone,” or as an enviable ability to “take a shit and come up with a gem of a pop hook,” Ryan Adams, strangely enough, makes me want more Ryan Adams.
There are two versions of Ryan Adams out there in the world jostling for your attention. There’s the singer/songwriter who plays it straight and, on some level, tries to appeal to a mainstream audience that still buys records—that’s the Ryan Adams who duets with Sheryl Crow and records albums like Gold and Easy Tiger, which are so precisely and tastefully wrought that they come off as almost lifeless. And then there’s the unreformed punk who loudly broadcasts his love of hardcore and black metal, who impulsively announces he’s quitting music just weeks before he releases another EP, who records a theme song for his website.
Ryan Adams is a master conjurer: See the NoCal folk rock of Cold Roses, the Southern alt-country of Jacksonville City Nights, etc. For his first LP since 2011 – a stretch for a guy who generally releases a record or more a year – Adams rewires heartland rock, with major-chord, Reagan-era guitars, muscle-shirt drums and a thousand-yard stare. "Trouble" declares, "Heeey, we might as well be dead and gone," astride fast-lane guitar choogle, while the agoraphobe narrator of "I Just Might" ponders a very bad act.
It has taken Ryan Adams more than a decade, and he has finally done it: he's recorded his straight-down-the-line stadium-rocker. In contrast to the muted strum of its predecessor, 2011's Ashes & Fire, this self-titled album is monolithic, bombastic, urgent. It doesn't pay to listen closely to the lyrics, because what emerges is repetition: images of fire, darkness and entrapment that signpost generalised angst without articulating specific emotions.
There are generally two sides to Ryan Adams releases, those that take on the full bodied, more electric sound - until recently captured on record as Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - and a softer more intimate guise. This latest release certainly falls into the latter, which is no bad thing. Over the ten or so albums Adams has released in the last 12 years, there has collectively been enough grade A material to have filled three, possibly four amazing albums at best, though nothing yet has quite matched the excellence of 2001’s ‘Gold’.
Having markedly reduced his output since releasing Cardinology in 2008 (only four albums in six years – compared to the previous nine, issued in more or less the same timeframe), Adams plugs a three-year gap with another slickly produced record with designs on the mainstream. Yet while 2011’s Ashes & Fire was something of a consolidation of his country-rock singer-songwriter prowess, Ryan Adams marks a return to the overt 80s rock stylings found on lesser-loved long-player Rock N Roll. Several lyrical allusions to a lack of inspiration might account for the increasingly longer gaps between records.
Ryan Adams's music has always walked a fine line between heavy schmaltz and affecting sentiment, a line similar to that threaded between his songs' classic country melancholy and radio-friendly pop balladry. His early albums with Whiskeytown presented idyllic pastoral scenes that made hay of emotional fatigue, the dead-end despair of nowhere towns paired with the wrecks of ruined relationships; his later solo work adapted that bleakness into an urban context, telling stories of dreamers and burnouts for whom old wounds served as badges of honor. The habit of mixing downhearted fatalism into the broad sweep of the classic power ballad has remained a constant in his songs, but it's become more problematic as the coarseness of Adams's countervailing nasty side has softened, making for music which spends far more time on the wrong side of maudlin.
On his new, self-titled, album the enfant terrible of the Americana scene grows up and embraces his classic rock roots, with no second-guessing and no looking back over his shoulder. The results are… well, read on… BY FRED MILLS Ryan Adams is a 5-out-of-5-stars album. I’m not afraid to be that blatant about my admiration for it; it’s been a constant fixture on my stereo since I got a digital advance of it several weeks ago.
In a way, it makes sense that Ryan Adams would make a good producer. He’s someone who works on instinct and doesn’t overthink things—the type who encourages artists to work the same way, nudging them along if they get stuck on something, urging them to move on. His famously prolific output as a solo artist seems to stem from the belief that tinkering and revising and shelving songs until later do not necessarily make better rock’n’roll music.
There is a satisfying sense of grit to Ryan Adams’s latest, an eponymous effort out Tuesday. He is rootless, restless, and rocking on this 11-track collection of songs that veer from misty atmospherics to burning guitars. The set starts with the fiery “Gimme Something Good”: all classic-rock heat, charged with a humid organ fill that would fit right into a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tune.
Three years since his warm-and-fuzzy "honeymoon" record, Ashes & Fire, Ryan Adams' new, self-titled solo release is weathered, weary and rooted in reality. Adams departs from his alt-country singer/songwriter designation on most of this record, instead picking up reverb. “Gimme Something Good,” “Trouble” and “Stay With Me” are sonically reminiscent of the warm, echoing guitar harmonies of the Replacements and Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
The deserved praise that greeted Ryan Adams' 2011 album Ashes & Fire, and admittedly in many ways the album itself with its "maturity", "sincerity" and "restraint", suggested that the prodigal son had come home – home to the lush, romantic alt-country that initially made his name. The fact it has been some three years since then further proves that he is more relaxed about music-making these days, compared with the more fevered, urgent pace of output in his younger years. But the album he has returned with destroys any notion that he was set to coast down the more acoustic route for a prolonged period.
Ryan Adams’s Twitter profile simply reads: “stay weird”. Adams has certainly sported a weird streak through his feathers in the past, rife with genre-hopping, the shelving of full and completed albums, and fevered fits of prolificacy. Bound with his mercurial demeanor on stage and off, Adams earned, perhaps, the cliché-ridden trope of enfant terrible, an eccentric of sorts whose ambition – or arrogance, depending how you want to look at it – in trying everything under the sun was arguably stunted in part by his insistence on releasing too much material too often.
Ryan Adams says that before he wrote and recorded his new, self-titled album, he scrapped an entirely different record he'd completed with the esteemed English producer Glyn Johns, who earlier had overseen Adams' "Ashes & Fire" from 2011. No surprise there: At 39, Adams already has made more music than many — perhaps most — artists twice his age; his catalog is full of limited-edition releases that live in the shadows of his higher-profile projects. What's unexpected about "Ryan Adams" if you know the record's back story, though, is how even-tempered it feels, not at all like the impulsive bloodletting its origin story might suggest.
Ryan Adams is nothing if not consistent. The singer-songwriter has had the same haircut for at least the last 10 years, is still rocks vintage T-shirts and jean jackets, and, while he hasn’t released a record since 2011’s Ashes & Fire, his latest, Ryan Adams, is par for the course. Adams is consummately Adams, crooning about heartbreak and love, peppering his lyrics with a lot of lengthily warbled uses of the word “burn.” But that sameness isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you like Adams’ work.