Ryan Adams - Rock N Roll
Many artists have had chameleon-like shifts in public image since Bowie, but few manage to exist as a perfect schizophrenic personality as much as Ryan Adams, a gifted alt/country songwriter with rock star cravings. Adams submitted the pained and reflective, albeit very beautiful Love Is Hell album upon completion to his label Lost Highway and they rejected it, claiming it sounded like a first-draft demo stage of a “proper” album. Therefore, Adams went away and recorded Rock N Roll, the complete antithesis to Love Is Hell, as if saying throwing a collection of rock hits to his masters so that he can then go away and make his own version of "proper" music.
Listening to the very first few chords on the very first track off Rock N Roll and it becomes apparent what type of album Adams has delivered. Not only does This Is It play off The Strokes’ repertoire in terms of its title, but it also references the power-chord style of the NYC band in an ironic fashion, almost as if Adams is deliberately spoofing The Strokes in a “are you satisfied, now?” agression towards his label.
What more do you need to know about Rock N Roll? As an other-end-of-spectrum companion piece to Love Is Hell, it’s a brilliant and fun way to spend fifty minutes with Adams rocking out and having fun. Think of Rock N Roll as the album you’d play on your stereo whilst dressing for a night out, compared to Love Is Hell being the album you’d play on the comedown when you’d returned. Musically and sonically, Adams blisteringly fuses power-pop sensibilities with sounds typically associated to seventies-glam-rock and even the eighties stadium rock of Bono and co. The year 1974 even becomes a title of one his tracks, if only because that was the year Adams was born. Make no mistake, there are some bona fide rock classics on offer here, such as the engaging Luminol and the splatter-drenched relentlessness of She's Lost Total Control.
Whereas Love Is Hell contained obscure song titles such as Caterwaul and Political Scientists, Rock N Roll is pure simplicity with complexity-free cuts such as Note To Self: Don’t Die (in which Adams’ actress girlfriend Parker Posey provides backing vocals) and Anybody Wanna Take Me Home.
Rock N Roll is so damned good and so much fun that you almost forgive Adams for slipping up occasionally. Wish You Were Here contains so much off-the-cuff swearing that Adams easily surpasses the exceeded limit for maintaining a hip status, and the title track from the album is a clichéd piano ballad which finds him moaning about having to play rock and roll songs to please others. Rather than perpetuate the tortured temperamental genius persona Adams so wants us to buy into, he becomes his own lyrical worst enemy by frequently shooting himself in the foot. Maybe if he lightened up a little, say for instance, by recording a cover of Bryan Adams’ Summer Of ‘69? Ryan, that’s a joke, in case you are reading.
Even if Rock N Roll doesn’t come close to matching Love Is Hell’s depth, it doesn’t necessarily suggest it’s a lesser record. It probably kept Lost Highway happy even if it stalled outside the Top 40 album chart, and does enough to convince us that Adams might just have enough credentials to justify his rock star panderings. As long as he keeps writing powerhouse songs like Shallow and So Alive, whilst earning his alt/country plus-points with songs such as Afraid Not Scared off Love Is Hell, then there’s no reason why he can’t please two crowds at once. If only he’d quit with his public moodswings, but then...how rock and roll is that?