Maintaining the exact (and I mean exact) same tempo for all eleven of its tracks, Ryan Adams doesn’t make it easy to differentiate one song from the next on his latest, self-titled release. Through his first LP since 2011, a three-year break that is uncommon for the prolific songster, Ryan Adams transports us back to the golden age of the 80’s where all you needed were three chords and a denim jacket to be a rock star.
The album opens with ‘Gimme Something Good,’ which proves a very promising start. The slow-rock jam features the sultry angst we have come to associate with Adams and rocks a thick refrain: “All my life been shaking been wanting something/Holding everything I had like it was broken/Gimme Something Good…” Then we venture into the watered-down space of ‘Kim.’ Lots of leaves falling on streets as people leave each other. ‘Wrecking Ball’ brings us back into Heartbreaker territory as a bruised ballot, “Hey, you’re my wrecking ball/Won’t you come and maybe knock me down tonight?” It reminds us that Adams is as he always has been – a glutton for punishment.
Then there is a downturn at ‘Stay With Me’. At around this point in the record you begin to realize that the poor snare drum player (Jeremy Stacey) hasn’t gotten a break. Cracking on the 2nd and 4th beat of every measure with a maddening reliability – you begin to feel like a mental patient who overhears each tick of the clock. We are saved with ‘Shadows’, a deceptively simple number that swiftly sweeps into a lyrical and musical sophistication that we haven’t yet heard on the record. It is as straightforward as the other songs, but shows us the difference between being simple and being elementary. Back down we go again with yawn-inspiring trio ‘Feels Like Fire,’ ‘I Just Might,’ and ‘Tired of Giving Up’. These take us back to the arena of blasé and land us finally in ‘Let Go’ – a radio-friendly, spacious number that fails to incite any real reaction.
Landing somewhere on the border of adult contemporary and rock, this record is milquetoast at best. As always, Adams sounds comfortable and confident behind the mike, a veteran in the art of sultriness. But Ryan Adams the album lacks the defining impression of Ryan Adams the singer, and results in leaving you unimpressed. It’s not that he owes us anything more than a simple record – he’s proved time and time again that simple is his strong suit. But this album isn’t just simple, it’s uninterested and somehow beneath him. However if we know anything about Mr. Adams, it’s that he will be back shortly with another record and another bone to pick.