Rock N Roll
By: Eric Greenwood
Hating Ryan Adams is just way too easy, so I decided to try to like him. His embarrassingly impetuous, tabloid-mongering behavior makes him seem like a talentless hack, even though, admittedly, I'd never given his music much of a chance. I'd heard some Whiskeytown and scarce few of his early solo songs, but, never having been much impressed, I lazily bought all the negative hype without further investigation.
Adams' tenacity in the face of such across-the-board hatred intrigued me enough to start paying attention, at least peripherally, to his spoiled and often incoherent public ramblings. I never would have even cared to listen to his latest full-length, Rock N Roll, assuming all the negative press as an affirmation of my initial impression, if not for accidentally hearing a few songs and finding myself curious enough to ask who it was.
To dismiss Adams out of hand as a musical pilferer devoid of any originality whatsoever is wholly unfair, especially when similarly "influenced" rockers like Jack White and Julian Casablancas get perpetual golden passes from the press for similar sins. Adams does not hide his obsession with The Smiths, his reverence for Radiohead, nor his desire to be Jeff Buckley any more than Jack White tries to hide the fact that he thinks he's black. It's almost as if Adams' music seems cursed simply for wearing too much on his sleeve and not feeling bad about it.
But the man has undeniable gifts. Sure, he's a starfucking brat, aping his peers shamelessly, but he's got the chops to make it worth your time. At first "This is It" sounds like Adams is trying way too hard to sound gruff and authentic, but the hook in the chorus nags you until you succumb to its anthematic grandiosity. Likewise, "Shallow" seems disingenuously gritty, but Adams is just too good at appropriating other people's sounds into his agenda, shallow as it may or may not be.
The song that made me drop all pretense and care about Ryan Adams was "So Alive." Its mid-80's post-punk guitars careen like Kiss Me-era Cure, and Adam's voice floats above the driving bass with melodramatic urgency. It's a flawless pop song, and in one fell swoop Adams has negated all of his childish public posturing. The dark, sturdy rock of "Luminol" is the type of hit that could give modern radio a brief reprieve from its hopeless downward spiral.
Rock N Roll is not the record Adams intended to release, but his label, Lost Highway, insisted on supporting its more commercial sound over the impossibly downbeat complaint-rock found on his recently released pair of Love Is Hell EP's. It's a strikingly consistent record, despite the fact that he tosses off songs like they're used condoms. It may not be the real thing, but Adams proves he’s fearless enough to act like it is, which is more than you can say for damn near everybody else these days.