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.


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