A few years ago, my friend saw Ryan Adams live and was absolutely blown away by how intense the experience was. Adams and his band had completely filled the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, New Jersey not only with people, but also and more importantly with a sound only Adams can achieve. Unfortunately, upon rushing home and listening to as many of Adams’ records as he could, my friend was disappointed by how little energy the music seemed to have in the studio compared to the stage.
This is not so with Adams’ new eponymous album. Ryan Adams is an instant classic and rightfully presented as such. I was taken by surprise that his sixteenth album (in fifteen years, by the way) was titled nothing more than is own name, but upon listening, the choice makes sense. This album encapsulates and presents who Ryan Adams is as an artist and more importantly as a person. I’ll happily join in the choir of praise of this album in saying Ryan Adams finally found the right sound for him.
The album’s opener, “Give Me Something Good”, swaggers out of the gate to a crisp guitar over head bob-inducing drums and an ocean of Hammond organ. You don’t have time to think “haven’t I heard this before?” because it sounds so perfectly assembled that you’re too busy grooving to complain. Songs like this, “Trouble”, and “Stay With Me” are the first songs I’ve heard that have ever made a chorus pedal sound good. “My Wrecking Ball” is his version of Death Cab’s classic “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. I am completely sure that dudes will try and win the girl over with that one. With all this in mind, I don’t think Adams isn’t breaking ground with this album. He’s taking the ground that’s already been shattered and making something powerful and memorable of it.
However, I do think this record is somewhat obvious of a “bits and pieces” album. It’s not as cohesive or fluid as I’d like it to be, and that seems a bit unusual for Adams himself. In the past, he’s been the kind of musician who makes albums that should be listened to as a complete unit, but this time around, the album feels more like a collection of songs. As the album progresses, it seems rather formulaic: lots of reverb, delay on the vocals, roughly the same few tempos, and similar structure throughout. It even shows on the album’s closer, “Let Go”, which I expected to be much more powerful.
Then again, that formula made an excellent record, so I suppose it’s not much of complaint. After all, Ryan Adams was the one who made “Wonderwall” cool, so he gets license to do whatever he wants and have it be great. All the bits and pieces that went into making Ryan Adams are things I’ve heard before, but the way Adams arranged it all just makes perfect sense. It’s a cohesive record that other musicians of the genre simply won’t be able to match.