Review Summary: Professional sad guy Ryan Adams gets even sadder.
Ryan Adams, the punk rocker trapped in the role of the singer songwriter, has been churning out his brand of alt-country for 2 decades. In more recent years, especially with both his self titled album and Prisoner, he has shifted to a more jangly, alt-rock vibe. His music is both lauded as well as criticized for being unoriginal and maybe inauthentic at times.
Personally, I've always been torn about this guy. I really do enjoy his past two albums, as well as his albums 'Gold' and 'Heartbreaker', but I guess I have always questioned his authenticity as an artist. I believe most people have. Like I mentioned earlier, his Black Flag shirts and patch covered jean jackets that he so often wears suggest that he would rather be playing in a hardcore punk band.
The subject matter of this particular album more or less laid to rest my suspicions about Ryan Adams. He had recently gone through a divorce with his wife Mandy Moore, and much of the lyrics and music reflect the struggles of this tumultuous time in his life. Granted, Adams has always been your standard, run-of-the-mill mopey white dude, but this album contains a level of genuine heartbreak that is both relatable and sincere. If Adams truly wanted to play in his own hardcore punk band, there's nothing stopping him at this point. However, rather than go that route, he chooses to express his emotions and heartbreak in the form of a extremely well-written and well executed alt-rock record.
The album is actually pretty diverse with the sounds of the individual songs themselves, but still remains very consistent and concise. The opening track "Do You Still Love Love Me?" is a slow paced, straight ahead rocker. Songs like the self titled track and "Anything I Say To You Now" display Ryan Adams' appreciation for the jangly guitars of The Smiths. "To Be Without You" is a very stripped back number featuring very barebones instrumentation in the form of acoustic guitar, drums, bass, and vocals, with electric guitar sliding in at the end for a few lines of lead. I found this album enjoyable from start to finish, and none of the tracks are skip-worthy.
Is this album groundbreaking? HELL no. Is it original? Eh. Is it a relatable, emotionally driven album? Absolutely. This album is an instance where one simply has to drop their ego and just enjoy the music. I don't typically like to base an album rating on whether or not I 'vibe' with the record, as I believe that discredits reviewing the actual music itself, such as structure, originality, lyrical content, etc. (there are albums that I genuinely love that I wouldn't rate higher than a 2.5 if I were forced to review them based on these factors). However, on this record, and most Ryan Adams records, I think the vibe of the music is an integral part of what makes him popular. After all, music is supposed to make you feel something. I think sometimes we get too caught up in whether or not an album is completely fresh or original that we forget to take the music for what it is. This album is one of the best breakup albums that I've heard in recent years. He really lets his emotions take the reigns and guide his songwriting on this record, and it pays off. For those moments when you're feeling lost in your own thoughts, put this album on and let it do its magic.