I don’t write negative reviews anymore. With so much great stuff out there, 99% of which falls completely below most people’s radar, why take the time to slag somebody? You don’t need me to tell you that the biggest selling albums are crap — your ears can tell you quicker than I.
No, a performer really has to piss me off to get spanked. Hell, even U2’s forced “gift” of their current album doesn’t rank — of course, I didn’t listen to it, just a statement of free will (and not to mention their last “great” album was 20+ years ago). But I pre-ordered the new Ryan Adams in July, and although watching him perform “Gimme Something Good” on Letterman didn’t really spark my interest, I figured that he’d chosen the most commercially viable song for late night audiences, being that his last solo full-length was the remarkable and mature Ashes and Fire from 2011.
Nope. He picked about the only song on the record with a positive voice. This record — and it pains me to say this, because I’ve been a Ryan Adams fan since the Patty Duke Syndrome in the early 1990s — this is a record from a whipped dog of a man. Just look at the titles: “Am I Safe”, “Let Go”, “I Just Might”… just might what, Ryan? Stop listening to the classic rock station on your satellite radio, hoping to hear more ’80s power ballads? Every song is a tentative, halting mid-tempo exercise in tedium. He squanders amazing bass guitarist Tal Wilkenfeld (last seen with Jeff Beck) on this plodding waste of vinyl, as well as the talents of Benmont Tench on keyboards. Supposedly, Johnny Depp plays guitar on a few cuts, Whoop de doo, I’m sure there were 500 better, more deserving guitarists within 10 miles of the studio where this was recorded.
Now, this won’t turn me away from Adams — hell, if Pneumonia didn’t sour me on Whiskeytown, nothing he’ll do will — but watching him go from the enfant terrible of roots rock to a reluctant, uninspired face in the crowd is painful. Maybe growing up doesn’t suit some folks. Ryan Adams didn’t suit me. Come back, rowdy Ryan, and kick over a chair or something. Or write another song as good as “16 Days” or an album such as Easy Tiger. Come on, I dare ya.