By Emily Votaw
Ryan Adams has finally put out a self-titled record, which, from a fan’s perspective, seems like nothing but a beam of hope. After years of incredibly prolific releases – some hit, some miss, (but boy did those hits hit) – and after a decided drop from the music world after 2011’s “Ashes and Fire,” how could a fan not be excited for a self titled album? A move on Adams’ part that one would assume would indicate a larger sense of self, a true tie-together of his incredibly diverse discography?
For whatever reason, Adams’ most recent effort does sound like Adams – that you can’t really question between the poor-man’s-Morrissey-style lyrics and the alt-country guitar riffs – but it also sounds like his most boring release yet. There isn’t a standout track, there is no diamond among the murky sonic mess that Adams creates throughout the album.
Opener “Gimme Something Good” promises the listener that “yes, you are about to get a ‘rock’ Ryan Adams record,” but falls into a remarkably uninteresting rut almost immediately. There are the crunchy guitars; Adams sounds like he is probably scrunching his puppy-dog face into a scowl; the lyrical matter, is, again, like Morrissey on a really bad day – so how can this be bad? It isn’t, per se, but it definitely doesn’t improve with repeated listens.
Sure, sometimes Adams’ material feels tossed off, but isn’t that a part of his enormous talent? Isn’t that why albums like “Rock N Roll” and “Gold” are so brilliant? Some of the songs on those albums are obviously labored over, but others feel like the product of a single guitar riff that Adams thought up spontaneously, and they’re both grade A introductions to his lengthy catalog. “Ryan Adams” sounds like a record that should have been written and recorded in a flash, but instead it’s weighted down by bloated production and an overall generic “rock” sound.
The second track, “Kim”, has brief traces of the messy-haired boy fans know and love, but ultimately the song sinks into mediocrity. A nondescript regurgitation of every electric tune that Adams has ever penned. Guitars that wander aimlessly, amped up by production, not by passion, and listless lyrics that speak of some sort of tragedy that is, for the most part, hard to take seriously.
“Trouble” has a weak but admirable attempt at an interesting vocal melody, something that Adams has always had a knack for. (“Nuclear” off 2002’s “Demolition,” “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home” from “Rock N Roll”). The vocal falls, though, and the melody that Adams is trying to create within the interaction of the vocals and the guitar is nothing short of unimpressive and maybe even vaguely cringe-inducing.
Of course, Adams has his share of weepy moaner tracks on this album; that is his trademark and one that fans wouldn’t trade for the world (but probably would trade for a good new Ryan Adams record). This time it’s “My Wrecking Ball.” The song could potentially be an anthem for any clingy ex-boyfriends out there, but, let’s get this straight fellas – that tune isn’t going to win back any lady. The song is bogged down by a wordiness that Adams occasionally falls into in his work, and the result just isn’t charming.
“Ryan Adams” might have a cool cover, because who doesn’t like seeing cute baby boy Adams with a mop of vaguely avian looking hair slung over his forehead – but what awaits the listener inside is a tired mix of brand X angst cast over cardboard guitars and formulaic production.