Ryan Adams & The Cardinals - Cardinology
I LOVE Ryan Adams. There's no denying it, it's the real thing. This time next year when we're queueing up to put our X in the 'Artist Of The Decade' polls, I know where my cross is going. From the first shots of Whiskeytown to the gazillion solo chasers he's downed since 2000's Heartbreaker, no one's soundtracked my noughties existence – the tears, tantrums and dancing on table tops - like Mr. "Ain't no B in Ryan, Sucka" Adams. In fact, there's no one less suitable to be reviewing this, but hey I'm here now so let us give thanks and praise.
Being a RA fan is like being a Mozzer or Manics fan. The devoted are as blindly obsessive as the razor-toothed critics are savage. Accusations of arrogance, pomposity, alcoholism, womanising and churning out the same ol' tat over and over again...but enough about me, this is supposed to be a Ryan Adams review. Let's just say if you didn't rate Jacksonville's finest before, you won't dig Cardinology and even those who did may feel frustrated (again).
Overall Cardinology follows the traditional country rock of Cold Roses (ie. Willie Nelson armwrestling The Band) but has an opening path which is troublingly so-so. Curtain raiser, Born Into A Light is so shoulder shruggingly underwhelming, it's a shock to the system. Luckily Go Easy - Adams channelling Ocean Rain-era Bunnymen, with a great yearning baby Bono yelp - at least registers on the quality ticker. But it's seriously short. Similarly the single, Fix It, which smoulders in a matinee idol stylee but is ushered away with rude haste.
Magick would've made a better single but again it's pocket-sized. It whips up a daft but amusing storm and is seemingly influenced by touring buddies Oasis with its written-on-a-fag-packet lyric ”Zombies running round...what goes around comes around...so turn your radio up”. I'm adamant Adams is one of America's choice lyricists but listening to Magick I'd have trouble proving it. Four songs in and I'm on my knees begging "God, show me magic!".
But hi-ho silver lining out come the big dukes and off it flies, bloody-well soars in fact. Hallelujah, I was starting to look a bit of a tit stood here in my matching Ryan Adams pyjamas 'n' slippers. It's like the band have retired for the night and our hero tiptoes back into the studio like a Tennessee Wee Willy Winkie armed with a candle, a keg of JD and some divine inspiration - this is where the magic happens.
Cobwebs is a revelation, a proper ballsy drum intro snowballing into great lyrics, great structure and great melody. It's killer line - "If I fall will you catch me, will you confuse my love for the cobwebs" - doesn't make much sense but feels ACE. It's the first flash of finger lickin' frickin' genius and feels like resurrection. It has the heartwarming drive of A Sort of Homecoming by U2 and I am coming home.
The heavenly soul of Let Us Down Easy follows and glows like Memphis sunshine, with our Reverend preaching to the flock in a wavering prayer somewhere betwixt Aaron Neville and Jimmy Cliff. Years from now it's timeless melody will be an enormo hit for some lucky soul brother or sister.
This trilogy of stunners finishes with Crossed Out Name – think Sinatra reimagining the Pumpkins Disarm. It's blessed by a heavenly vocal (this album is a showcase for Adams the singer) which occasionally recalls both Adele's Hometown and Marley's Redemption Song. Regardless, it's bulletproof good. Faith somewhat restored then.
Now it's morning and it's back to Clark Kent. Natural Ghost is fine, but there's no dancing on the rooftops. Ditto Sink Ships, lovely acoustics but just another day at the office. Evergreen is much better, as perky and poetic as The Doors' Love Street, it had me hallucinating Barber Shop Quartets, Huckleberry Finn and Mississippi river boats. I really must see a psychiatrist.
And then, like clockwork, the “Quiet! – Genius at Work” sign goes back on the door. Like Yesterday sees Adams sitting on the dock of the bay, sharing his sandwiches with Otis' ghost. “Oooh it doesn't feel like yesterday” he reminisces and it's impossible not to swoon. Bag it up as “Masterful Songwriter Evidence # 5476”. Fireworks this way! This is why we watch the skies!
Stop calls last orders with RA left on his Jack Jones at the Joanna, 'neath a haze of cigarette smoke and the moon lighting those 88 keys. All whiskey throat, torn and frayed, it's so delicate it takes your breath away. As for the bonus tracks, kill for the sweet Memory Lane but just maim for the baggy shuffle of Colour Of Pain.
Cardinology isn't Adams' masterpiece; like its maker it's scruffy, goes home early, turns up late, messes about, shows off, but when it works it's Employee of The Month everytime. A contrary bugger undoubtedly, but again he adds a half-dozen jewels into an already overstuffed suitcase of classics that will live a helluva lot longer than I will. As a record overbearingly promoted as a “Full Band” production I was convinced - in its plainer moments - that wonderboy was keeping his superpowers dipped for the sake of democracy. Or maybe that's just me and my blind faith.