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Ryan Adams embraces rock n roll

Liam Farrell | Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Ryan Adams has left behind his acoustic guitar and the lonesome cowboy image developed with Whiskeytown and his early solo work on his latest release, appropriately titled Rock n Roll. In the context of last year’s Demolition, this embrace of more straightforward rock and roll instead of an alt-country blend seems like a natural progression for Adams, someone always willing to dig deep into past sounds and come up with an inviting retro sound. Adams has come into full acceptance of his inner Paul Westerberg with more than just his voice, filling the album with jangling, distorted guitars and rough and tumble rock construction. The album is not really experimental, but it is a new approach for Adams and adds a new dimension to the already diverse catalog that he has produced.Unfortunately, this album does not stack up with most of his earlier work. Although not really overshadowed by Demolition, the beautifully murky swamp of influences on Gold that showed an interest in almost every form of popular music in the last 30 years is absent yet again. One of the curses of being such a prolific songwriter is that some sub par music can sneak onto an album, and without the benefits of Gold’s length, the weak songs cannot always be lost among the better tracks.This is not to say, however, that the album is a failure; indeed, the most mediocre Ryan Adams’ song is still usually a great piece of music. The intensity of “So Alive,” the self-reflection of the somber “Rock N Roll” and the soaring melody of “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home” carry the album along and keep the pace alive. The upbeat pace of most songs allows the album to never become soggy and bogged down, even though Adams’ usually brilliant and insightful lyrics are in some cases overshadowed by cliché and too much profanity.Overall, however, it is a strong effort by one of the most potent musicians around today. Occasionally it can seem that Adams is just putting up a front, an image, but the sincerity that comes through in his musical craft never really allow someone to place him among fake hipsters. The irony of naming the first track “This Is It” seems like a joking answer to the Strokes’ first album Is This It? and can be seen as a humorous assertion of Adams’ ego, which can seem overwhelming in the ambition of many of his projects. Still, the ragtag and almost underground feel and appearance of this album betray any notions of Adams’ being a wannabe rock star; you can’t help but like the guy and dig his music. Hopefully, he’s got something even better up his sleeve for future releases.

Contact Liam Farrell at lfarrell@nd.edu