Halftime Leisure

Critical Voices: Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams

September 12, 2014

Ryan Adams’ career has followed many musical twists and turns, perhaps best evidenced by the 13 albums and countless musical collaborations he has released since 2000. After a 3-year hiatus, Ryan Adams is back with his 14th, self-titled studio album– a melancholy, moody, and predictable roller coaster of rock and blues.

It’s obvious that Adams has the formula down for bluesy rock ballads, but his tendency to stay within the structure of the genre hinders him from producing many unique hits on this album. Adams seems to use the solid musical arrangement of his initial track as a mold for the rest of his songs, which try to fill in the same framework with different lyrical combinations of heartbreak, loneliness, and darkened mood. One can guess the track title just by listening for repetition of the chorus: just as the lines “gimme something good/gimme something good/gimme something good” lead the listener to the title of the first track, so too do the lyrics “Kim/Kim/Kim” reveal the title of Adams’ second. The result is an album that is rigid in structure to the point that it leaves little room for the creativity or spontaneity of form that produces memorable work.

Right off the bat, “Gimme Something Good” practices what it preaches: the song opens with a catchy guitar riff that sticks in your head. The chorus is uplifting with a pop-country sound, and the backbone of Adams’ initial guitar riff keeps the song chugging along until the end. It’s no surprise that this was the single Adams chose to release over Amazon, where it reached the number one spot; unfortunately, the track is one of the album’s few stand-alone stars.

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That’s not to say that Ryan Adams is void of good music. All of the songs are individually fine, a mix of foot-tappers and brooding tunes. Some, like the third track “Trouble”, have echoing vocals and poignant guitar solos reminiscent of Oasis. Others borrow heavily from the sound of classic rock. “Shadows” in particular offers up a darker side of Adams’ music in its distorted guitar and haunting lyrics, with lines like “heaven waits in the darkness of a room”. Many of Adams’ other lyrics don’t carry the same weight though: his track “Tired of Giving Up” features the lines “Is that all you can say?/you’re so wild and full of rage/keep running away, you’re running/you’re running, running/ Running running.”

But the album itself flows cleanly throughout, in part due to the drums and guitar riffs that punctuate nearly all of its tracks. Adams is definitely producing good music– it’s just that placing all of that good music back-to-back when it has a standardized structure makes the album dull and hard to listen to all the way through.

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One benefit of Adams’ structure is that it allows for his standouts to really shine. One of the best on this record, his melancholy tune “My Wrecking Ball”, is a wonderful break from form with it’s slowed-down, bluesy sound.  The song is beautiful in its simplicity, allowing it to pierce through the album’s repetition while also contributing to the ebb-and-flow of the record itself.

All in all, Adams has a solid foundation of sound in his latest album, although it is disheartening that it took him 14 other albums to reach this point. Hopefully the work will provide Adams with stable footing, one that allows him to color his already well-produced sound with a personal flare in the future.

Voice’s Choices: “Gimme Something Good,” “My Wrecking Ball”

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