Artist: Ryan Adams
Album name: Ryan Adams
Label: (Pax Americana)
The phrase ‘much-anticipated’ is thrown around far too often these days when it comes to new releases but in the case of the new, self-titled Ryan Adams album it is certainly apt.
After a dozen studio albums in a decade, as well as a multi-disc live box set and two books, Adams took a three-year break – which apparently included the recording of an aborted album.
He was also producing other artists in his own studio in Los Angeles, straightening out his life (having outlived his alt-country bad boy reputation) and working on this new project.
At just 39 years of age Adams has already achieved more than most of his contemporaries and has even served as an inspiration for Elton John, who recognised his immense talent early on.
This new album is Adams at his most focused. It starts strongly with the grungy Gimme Something Good where he sings “I’ve got nothing to say”, but in fact says plenty and he doesn’t use any clichéd love songs to do so.
In fact, the second song is one of the best break-up songs you are likely to hear this year – or any other year, come to think of it. On Kim, Adams implores to a former lover, “I spell out your name it’s f***king with my head, f***king with my heart” with such conviction that you really believe he has experienced it.
The up-tempo Trouble might have been considered autobiographical a few years ago, and Adams defiantly sings, “Hey, we might as well be dead and be gone if we don’t belong here” and adds ”7 years bad luck is better than none”. Then, the loping Am I Safe on which he asks, “Am I safe if I don’t wanna be with you”.
Sometimes the lyrics suggest that Adams is tortured but it is not all doom and gloom. Stay With Me and Feel Like Fire are much more optimistic in their own way and, if the latter sounds like a Tom Petty song then that might just be because The Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench is playing keyboards on it. (Along with Australian bass tyro Tal Wilkenfeld and Johnny Depp – yes, that one – on guitar).
The studio ensemble here is small, the sound on many of the songs is expansive and ready for the live setting.
The reflective My Wrecking Ball and the sparse rockabilly-inflected I Just Might both recall Bruce Springsteen and I bet the Boss would have loved to have had either song on his latest album!
All along that marvellous chiming guitar sound at which Adams is a master, permeates the songs.
The album ends with the gorgeous Tired of Giving Up and the much more world-weary Let Go, on which Adams sounds suddenly resigned and every bit as old as his 39 years – a complete contrast to the energy and defiance of the rest of the album.
Ryan Adams might have been away for three years but his new album proves he is still a force to be reckoned with.