Ryan Adams: Rock N Roll

This CD had three strikes against it before I even pressed play: 1) Adams has been praised by virtually every music critic, which means he probably sucks. 2) Anything that contains the phrase "Rock and Roll" probably sucks. (e.g., "We Built This City on Rock and Roll," "The Heart of Rock and Roll," "Old Time Rock and Roll," etc. Using "Rock" in lieu of "Rock and Roll" is almost -- but not quite -- as risky, and should only be done in the most desperate of circumstances.) 3) Ryan Adams' name is very similar to that of a rock star who sucks, which means that Ryan Adams, by proxy, probably sucks.

But dammit, I really like this CD. I didn't want to like it, but it happened. With the exception of "Come Pick Me Up," the Ryan Adams music I've heard in the past has impressed me only slightly more than the soundtrack from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. But now, I'm feeling exactly like that dorky 12-year-old kid who was at his first concert back in 1982, listening in awe as the opening act (creatively billed as "and special guest") sang about how he just can't stand another lonely night.

From the first track, I was smitten with... well, everything. The energy leapt out of my cheap car speakers, grabbed my wrist, and forced me to turn the volume knob deep into the distort-o range. Adams' voice is crap, in the way that Paul Westerburg and Paul Buchanan's voices are crap, which means they're really not crappy at all. What Adams lacks in vocal nuance and prowess, he makes up for in ass kickery. He's singing and playing like this song, this note, this word, this moment is the most important damned thing happening anywhere in the world, period. He's singing like he cares, and that makes me care.

There were a few pleasant surprises on the album. I've sung along with "So Alive" on WTMD numerous times, and I never knew it was Adams singing this great song. The song that proved to me that this album doesn't suck, however, was the precariously named title track. It is distinctly not a rock 'n' roll song, which makes it rock harder than any cheesy Starship song that dupes its listeners into a false sense of rock rebellion. The simple piano melody combined with the lovelorn lyrics prove that Adams really does understand what this wonderful, magical music called rock and roll is all about.

Music: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Adams played most of the instruments on the album. It's all simple, and it's all very effective. He doesn't let a lack of skill stand in the way of his talent. The lyrics don't blow my mind, but lines like "I am still dancing in the coma / of the drinks I just had / Does anybody want to take me home?" paint a nice picture.

Packaging: 2.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
It's a terrible cover. I find no redeeming qualities whatsoever. What's with the "Rx" thing? Is that a reference to how many drugs he does, or is he maybe a secret member of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists? Everything else, however, follows a decent graphical theme. Sure, showing off the business cards of your favorite NYC tattoo parlor is a little clichéd, but it least there's a common thread. But what's with the cover? What in God's name was he thinking?

Listen if you like: The Replacements, White Stripes, basic rock without much pretension.

If it were food, it'd be: Meat and potatoes with a big mug of PBR. But it only works if you're drinking Pabst because you're a hipster trying to be down with the blue collar factory workers (who, unfortunately, mostly became smack addicts because their jobs got outsourced to Malaysia and there's nothing to do but hang on the corner and get strung out). If Pabst is all you can afford or you actually like the taste, then you're probably listening to The River. Besides, does anyone actually like the taste of PBR?

1 comment:

bob_vinyl said...

I suppose I need to give this a listen. Anything that can overcome even the most tenuous ties to Bryan Adams deserves a shot.