Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Ryan Adams - 'Ryan Adams' Review

Ryan Adams' career trajectory is one that fascinates, whichever way you look at it. From the formative years fronting Whiskeytown, to one of the great singer-songwriter solo debuts in 'Heartbreaker', to his days as his own worst enemy at the height of his drink/drug/depression problems, he has never been less than compelling.

The music had at times suffered, no doubt. Yet there is that old chestnut that states the best art comes from the worst pain. 'Ashes And Fire', his most recent official effort (the man releases so much on the fly it's hard to keep track of what should be taken seriously), lacked some serious momentum, despite the at-times gorgeous finger-picking goodness. Any next move required him plugging in his electric guitars, from where for this writer's money, his best work has always emerged.

As with much of Adams' work, there is an element of homage at play here. Opener 'Gimme Something Good' channels the very best Tom Petty influences into something, well, great. Benmont Tench at the keys may have something to do with this, yet it hardly marks a huge departure for the main man. 'Rock N Roll' and 'Love Is Hell' were just some of his past albums that had one foot in the 80's.

Bryan Adams (yup, it's finally happened) is another touchstone in some of the driving rhythms. 'Trouble' is a long overdue follow-up to one of his classics, 'Run To You'. Given that Ryan once threw a fan out of his concert for having the gall to request 'Summer Of '69, the irony will I'm sure not be lost on him. In addition, he once told of his agitation at being sold as "radio rock, 'fucking Tom Petty" in the 'Gold' days. How things change.

The aforementioned 'Trouble' possesses some of his best arpeggios, retaining that quintessential Ryan Adams feel, even with a new backing band, 'The Shining'. 'My Wrecking Ball' is what grounds the album, and is like a splash of water on the face in what can sometimes be a murky atmosphere. Fans of his acoustic side will love this, and ensures the album veers away from genre exercise status at its mid-point.

We're taken round the 80's bend again with 'Stay With Me', in what is arguably the stand-out moment. Squealing guitars and a pleading vocal, begging to "treat me right, hold me closer in the middle of the night" just beg you to jump in the car and get away.

It's here where things get a bit darker. Critics of 'Love Is Hell' may get a bit alienated, as 'Shadows' piles on the reverb and mope. The "field of razor wire" in his head seems to get the better of him, and the drama is ramped up to maximum. 'Feels Like Fire' feels like pure honey comparatively, in atmosphere at least, as the lyrics are said to have been inspired by Adams' late grandmother.

'I Just Might' finally goes for the jugular and ends up all-out Springsteen, never fully taking off but providing more unsettling insights into the psyche behind this album. "Everything is broken in my mind" and "somewhere underneath all the hope is the truth". Bleak. Fortunately that is as dark as it gets for the remainder, and 'Tired Of Giving Up' feels like a resolution to keep the head up, and is another well-realised piece of soft rock, just ahead of the concluding cheery strum-along of 'Let Go'.

Most aspects of Ryan Adams' most-loved work are evoked with this self-titled album, and it really feels like the North Carolina songwriter is entering a period of contentment, in a more rounded way than the limited 'Ashes And Fire' did. Here we see Adams' embracing his love and urge to emulate the cheesiest of his rock god heroes, in a loving way, without ignoring his country roots. From here, short of going techno, there is scope to go in any direction he pleases, and for Ryan Adams that is the best possible outcome.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Interpol - 'El Pintor' Review

Interpol, one of the pioneer's of the early 00's New York music scene, hit a bit of wall as the millennium entered its second decade. The self-titled addition to their discography, while not without highlights, became a wearisome trudge towards the finish line, which was a shame, as the record's bleak aesthetic was in many ways entirely characteristic of their overall sound. Having shed a member in bassist Dengler (frontman Paul Banks fills in admirably here), much of the bloat in sound picked up over the years has also disappeared on 'El Pintor', album number five in a career that now has some much-needed forward momentum.

Opener 'All The Rage Back Home' overcomes a red herring 'Next Exit'-ish intro to emerge as Interpol's most urgent curtain-raiser yet. Faster does not automatically mean better, but the more stately tempos of later material have exposed cracks in the Interpol machine. Sometimes, pace is indeed the trick. Daniel Kessler, like few other guitarists, can create dreamy soundscapes to build an album around, and with a rhythm section as tight as is present here, it is very difficult to not strike gold.

'My Desire', 'Same Town, New Story' and 'My Blue Supreme' all drift along languidly, underpinned by some typical Kessler chimes, while the lyrical mode of Banks is as ever strangely unsettling at times - tales of desire-related frustration is business as usual for someone who once claimed to be a "scavenger between the sheets of union". There isn't much immediacy here, but the ear-worm melodies reveal themselves and burrow deep with a few listens. To use the word 'highlights' may be misleading, as everything is of a broadly similar high standard.

'Anywhere' is a pounding and quite stirring number that doesn't let up from start to finish. Live performances of the song see the band speed things up even more, but the 'El Pintor' version is no slouch, and is perhaps the band's catchiest song since 'Slow Hands'. The comparisons to 'Antics', Interpol's much-loved second album, are impossible to avoid, and while the sometimes overbearing production ensures the quality does not match that landmark, the tunes are undeniable.

The issue of Carlos' departure was a thorny issue for some, but 'Everything Is Wrong' is front-loaded with the kind of jet-powered bass-line we could have been forgiven for thinking was history. The song itself blossoms into a series of Kessler guitar explosions, while Banks croons the word "truly" over and over. The band certainly weren't counting this song when deciding its title.

While 'Ancient Ways' is a 'wall of sound' experiment that doesn't quite come off, this may be in part down to the aforementioned production, where there is occasionally little room to breathe between the instruments. This problem is overcome on the penultimate 'Tidal Wave', which recalls the very best of The Killers' debut album. As it reaches boiling point on the outro, Banks again shows off his bass chops, while the perfectly-judged electronics make for something of a climax for the record.

'Twice As Hard' winds the album down for a chilled out yet still cathartic close. One complaint that does dog the album is the lyrical repetition; every title of every song is repeated to within an inch of its life, and if the album wasn't so succinct this would be serious cause for concern.

As it is, we must be satisfied with an album that sees Interpol regain their footing as a band of relevance and one to expect continued riches from. Who knows, we may even see a new bassist enter the fold for future albums, but if records like this can come from a pared-down three-piece there is no need to panic on that front.