Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No.2 - Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is, and has always been, a man in a hurry. Christened David Ryan Adams, he became known by his second name, which led to inevitable confusion with the similarly named Canadian singer (of whom more later!).

Whiskeytown was his first band, a county-rock outfit. They attempted to mix Gram Parsons and the Replacements. Two somewhat overrated outfits. Unfortunately for them, country music has never really been any good. It is one of the most reductive, backward sounding 'genres' of music there is. Nevertheless, although being a country album, their debut - Faithless Street showed some promise, with some charming lyrics ('so I started this damn country band 'cos punk rock was too hard to sing' from the title track).

This was as good as it got for Whiskeytown. Their follow-up, 'Strangers Almanac' got great reviews but was inferior and began Ryan Adams' sprint towards the mainstream. The band lasted one more album before imploding and Mr. Adams took the well-trodden 'solo artist' path.

'Heartbreaker', his first solo album got him his best reviews of his career. Not a bad album, though (like much of his early output) overrated. In his wisdom, he followed this up with an unashamedly mainstream rock/pop album, 'Gold', where he posed on the cover with the American flag a la Bruce Springsteen, and began fraternising with cutting edge artists like Elton John and Alanis Morrissette.

Much of what has followed has been an interesting mess. He has flitted from one style to another, straight-ahead rock ('Rock N Roll'), Smiths-style mope-rock ('Love Is Hell'), back to country ('Cold Roses' / 'Jacksonville City Nights'), singer-songwriter angst ('29') before settling on middle of the road, vaguely countrified soft-rock ('Easy Tiger' / 'Cardinology'). All the while keeping himself in the public eye through dalliances with somewhat well-known women (though none of whose identities spring to mind right now), 'accidents' involving falling off stage and breaking his arm, reports of substance abuse and on-stage tantrums.

Many of these tantrums were driven by fans shouting out requests for 'Summer of '69' by Bryan Adams. To which he sulked. Wouldn't it have been easier to make light of it? It's no more cheesy than some of his own hokey country songs ('Desperate Ain't Lonely') or 'rock' songs ('Halloweenhead').

His latest publicity stunt is that he is talking about retiring from music. He might be better advised to stop giving interviews, stop falling out with his record company (as he did with Lost Highway who have refused to release some of his albums), and definitely to stop releasing so much music. How is any fan supposed to avoid overload? In 2005 he released 3 albums in 3 months. God knows how many other unreleased albums lie in the vault.

Just slow down Ryan. You don't have to burn out, in the words of Neil Young.