Ryan Adams is an artist I have always really liked but perhaps not fully loved. As I turn and look at just how many of his records I have, that seems a slightly strange statement to make, but what I’m driving at is quite simple: I often reach for some of his music, but there hasn’t been one album above all others to which I’ve consistently turned. ‘Gold’ has been prominent, ‘Love Is Hell’ got plentiful airings once I’d got hold of the glorious vinyl reissue earlier this year and I was rather partial to much of ‘Ashes & Fire’ from 2011, but look back over my previous end of year lists and he’s not there. Almost all of his albums have something special on them, ensuring that he occupies substantial shelf space round my way, but ‘Ryan Adams’ is the first of his that I have become a little bit obsessed with. Indeed, for over a month after it was released, little else got played on my drives to and from work. It rather suited the tail end of summer and, as a result, these songs are ingrained in my memories of 2014.
Right from the Bryan Adams-aping artwork onwards, this is an album aiming for the ‘classic rock’ sound. These are songs with gear-change choruses, neat guitar riffs and only three tracks make it past the four minute mark. ‘Gimme Something Good’ is a mid-paced stormer with an endearing swagger and elongated vowels aplenty, while ‘Am I Safe’ sounds a bit like an American Travis. I feel compelled to point out that I don’t intend that as a criticism. ‘My Wrecking Ball’ is on more familiar territory, built around quiet acoustic guitar and a reverb-drenched vocal. It is predictably beautiful and exactly the sort of thing I think of whenever I listen to the lines from Laura Marling‘s ‘New Romantic’: “He put Ryan Adams on. I think he thinks it makes me weak, it only ever makes me strong.”
The album ends on ‘Let Go’, a spry, airy tune with some remarkably involving imagery in its lyrics: “Down the rope ’cause we fell in, let down the rope. Hanging round the wishing well, it’s a slippery slope/ And I let go.” It’s one of the record’s true stand out moments, but there are a number. ‘Ryan Adams’ is a simple but effective album, wearing its Bruce and Tom Petty influences without any shame. As much as I know there is a more sombre, warm majesty to his previous outing, possibly even more artistic merit in as much as it steers further from pastiche than this latest effort is willing to, I am a sucker for some catchy tunes. I discussed the album with a number of long term fans on Twitter around its release and we all seemed to share past experiences of not really getting plenty of his albums on the first few listens. I was urging several of them to stick with what they had initially found to be a rather disappointing record and, sure enough, they soon found it had clicked. It’s not perfect, it’s not especially original, but ‘Ryan Adams’ is a thoroughly enjoyable and utterly consistent listen.