Three years is a normal gap between albums for most artists, but Ryan Adams isn’t most artists. The singer/songwriter is rivaled only by Prince for his copious output. “Ryan Adam,” his first album since 2011’s “Ashes & Fire,” marks a solid, if not spectacular,return.
Adams’ prodigious talent and musical curiosity has allowed him to dabble in several different genres, from rock to metal to country. “Ryan Adams” finds him at the intersection of classic rock and alt country. And if you’re going to going to lean toward classic rock, you might as well lean toward the greats: On album opener, “Gimme Something Good,” the swampy chugging guitar riff recalls The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards. “Trouble” has an engaging swagger redolent of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Am I Safe” essays a John Fogerty-like intro. “My Wrecking Ball” and “I Just Might” both have a touch of early and later-era Springsteen. The references, intentional or not, give “Ryan Adams,” which Adams self-produced, a pleasing air of familiarity, but also keep it from standing out as an album that can go toe-to-toe with some of Adams’ more distinctive fare such as “Heartbreaker,” “Easy Tiger” or “Cold Roses.”
There’s a melancholy to most of the lyrics here, a certain kind of sadness from which there seems no relief. On “Trouble,” he self-consciously notes, “I feel you watch me across the room/the lines on my face like a map of my sins.” On the spare, lonely “My Wrecking Ball” —just as in Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty,” Adams is surrounded by friends who are similarly lost: “My thoughts inside my head get lost inside the haunted house/everyone I used to know left their dreams by the door.”
By the time he gets to “Shadows,” and its “field of razor wire,” the wheels have come off. The song devolves into distorted chaos as everything falls apart. Adams sounds a bit like The Doors’ Jim Morrison as he pushes pop’s parameters on the weird, off-beat track.
On “Tired of Giving Up,” he laments that he’s tired of giving up so easily, but he doesn’t sound like there’s enough gas left in the tank to keep pushing.
As lyrically downbeat as much of the material is, the melodies, Adams’ vocals, and his great electric guitar work, are consistently engaging, giving “Ryan Adams” a buoyancy, despite the often depressing subject matter. Whether he decided to go the self-titled route because it’s his first album in a few years, he feels the lyrics are revealing, or whether he just couldn’t come up with a catchier title, “Ryan Adams” is a good reminder of what a strong musical force Adams can be, even if this isn’t his best work.