Ryan Adams released his self-titled 14th studio album on Tuesday, Sept. 9th.
In 2004 I stumbled upon what I thought at the time was Ryan Adams’ debut album, Love is Hell (I was wrong – way wrong – it was actually his fifth studio album which is still crazy to even type). The first track I heard was the only one that gained significant airplay at the time, his cover of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall.’ The track itself was nearly perfect (even for someone like myself who happened to love the original) and the album was great as well. It was at times acoustic, folky, emo, rock and country; occasionally it was all those things at once. Adams, perhaps more than any other artist at that time, showed that it was possible to embrace a variety of influences even as he made a sound all his own.
Since Love is Hell, Adams has produced a remarkable nine additional studio albums, several with his talented band The Cardinals and several more on his own. He has also created a legendary catalogue of unreleased material, some of which is on par with his best studio work and all of which makes him one of the most prolific artists of the last 15 years.
Over that time, he has swung from albums that are blues-tinged (on Cold Roses ) to country (on Jacksonville City Nights) to classic, mainstream rock n’ roll (on Cardinology  and Easy Tiger ). Granted, these are not major genre distinctions and in some (or arguably all) cases they are completely arbitrary, but they have always helped me differentiate the eras in Adams’ career and the various other artists that influence him. At his best, Adams manages to pay homage to the greats of rock music while creating his own particular brand guitar-driven (or occasionally organ driven) tracks. Even when he’s not completely on top of his game (as with the 2005 release 29) he is still far above the majority of other rock acts out today, and among my favorite rock artists ever.
Ryan Adams starts as strongly as any previous Adams’ release, with the Tom Petty-esque ‘Gimme Something Good’. The Tom Petty-meets-Bruce Springsteen-meets-The Killers influence (a weird trio I know, but once you hear it you won’t be able to un-hear it. Apologies in advance) is persistent throughout the album, especially the Tom Petty sound. This the most mainstream Ryan Adams has ever sounded, and it is by turns both thrilling and disappointing, though the former much more than the latter.
He has simplified the chord progressions and riffs on this album in a way that he never has before. There is a pop-rock vein here that would easily translate to mainstream rock radio if that were still a thing. This album is often very good, and occasionally great. The only time it loses steam is when the tempo drops and the music can’t carry the uncharacteristically vague lyrics (‘Am I Safe’ and ‘Shadows’ stand out as let-down tracks), but those instances are rare.
Ryan Adams feels like a new chapter for Adams as an artist, and it would be great to see him continue exploring pop music and blending it with his other influences. Even if he moves back into country, or blues, or emo, he’ll almost certainly continue making great music. Very often.
**5.6 our of 7 stars**