I like Ryan Adams. His abrasive, no nonsense, take-no -shit attitude – while at times exasperating – is an aspect of rock that is severely lacking in today’s music industry.
As a live performer, Adams’ stage presence teeters between cathartic and drunken sing-along, all the while leaving his audience awash in bewildering awe. Unfortunately, Adams’ latest full-length release, “Rock n’ Roll,” is as original and inspiring as its clich?d title.
Some critics will have you believe that this record is “breakthrough” or “classic.” Don’t be fooled. This record is about as breakthrough as Creed’s “My Own Prison” and as classic as Dispatch’s “Bang Bang.”
Recorded in less than two weeks, the sessions for “Rock n’ Roll” emerged as the result of a bitter dispute between Adams and his record company Lost Highway.
Way back in September 2002, Adams presented “Lost Highway” with “Love Is Hell,” a brilliant masterpiece, as a follow-up to 2001’s “Gold.”
The record company refused the album as quickly as Adams had recorded it, sending him back to the drawing table. Distraught and frustrated by the rejection (Lost Highway had also abandoned three other recordings of Adams), Adams secluded himself in the basement of a local New York watering hole to write and record with the resulting output committed to tape as “Rock n’ Roll.”
In “Rock n’ Roll,” the influence of Adams’ childhood music idols permeates every hook, note and lyric on practically every track. The single “So Alive” sounds like a U2-meets-the-Replacements outtake, with Adams poseur Bono falsetto marking each chorus in a method that seems strained. “1974” is reminiscent of every high school cover band you’ve ever heard trying to cover Black Flag or the Sex Pistols, while “Note to Self: Don’t Die,” is a lyrical travesty so trite that it’s a wonder how Adams even managed to pen the lyrics himself: “I’m as blue, I’m as blue as the ocean is true, Just reflections of the sky, I’m as cold, I’m as cold as the stories you told, Never sick enough to die.”
Yet, the album’s worst moment comes with “Wish You Were Here,” (no, not the Pink Floyd classic) an expletive laden lament about lost love. Ugh. Give us a break, Ryan.
I’d rather listen to Britney cover the Stones (again) than listen to what can only be considered pure album filler.
The only bright spot is found in the Smithsesque tune “Anybody Want to Take Me Home?” where at least Adams is singing with a passion that recalls the strength of his earlier efforts.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with an artist paying tribute to his or her influences on his or her own recordings, but to execute it in the manner Adams has is borderline plagiarism.
This is coming from the man that gave the world the “scrumtrulescent” alt-country “Heartbreaker” in 2000. Sure the album borrowed from everyone from Dylan to Young to Hank Williams – and it’s unfair to make comparisons between Adams now and Adams then – but there was still a distinct quality of originality to the last record.
Despite the downfalls of “Rock n’ Roll,” Adams is perhaps the most prolific songwriter of his generation. One can only hope Adams can return to his original form (regardless of genre) and treat his music with the seriousness and sincerity that he has seemed to ignore in the last year.
Key Tracks – “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?,” “The Drugs Not Working”