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Ryan Adams - Rock N Roll Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 November 2003

Ryan Adams

Rock N Roll
format: 16-bit Stereo CD
label: Lost Highway
release year: 2003
performance: 8.5
sound 7
reviewed by: Dan MacIntosh

ImageRyan Adams is no longer country music’s bad boy, which was an image he dedicatedly cultivated as leader of the band Whiskytown. This is why Rock N Roll is a perfectly sensible title for an Adams solo album. Rock music is simply the appropriate style for Adams’ ever-troubled heart. So while Adams’ initial individual efforts (\“Heartbreaker, Gold) veered close to singer/songwriter territory, Rock N Roll flat-out rocks – and in the most delightful way – most of the way through.

Adams has an impressive music history vocabulary, and just as he has mined the endless depths of country and folk-pop in the past, he’s also found plenty of treasure here with sounds that are saturated in good old rock ‘n’ roll. “1974” is a big, stomping and bass-driven rocker that almost verges on heavy metal. Apparently, Iggy & The Stooges provided the inspiration for this one. “Burning Photographs,” on the other hand, is a desperate, Paul Westerberg-inspired cry. On it, Adams’ voice breaks in perfect Replacements style when he sings, “I burned all of your photographs.” Its lyric also approximates Westerberg’s Holden Caulfield fixation with lines like, “Pretty pictures in a magazine/Everybody is so make-believe, it’s true.” Not everything here contains obvious historical footnotes, however, as “Wish You Were Here” has a passing resemblance to Fleetwood Mac’s driving rock grooves, and “So Alive” contains a sweet and Byrds-y jangle. “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home” nicely mirrors Peter Buck’s R.E.M. guitar-isms, while “Boys” is Cars-y and New Wave-y, in the best possible sense of those broad adjectives. Some of Adams’ imitation is less than flattering here, however. “Luminol,” for example, is choppy guitar rock, and might be just a little too close to he Strokes for comfort. “She’s Lost Total Control” also sounds way too much like he Strokes, and is almost totally devoid of any melody at all. When next in New York, Adams would be advised to seek out a few new musical sources of inspiration.

There are a few notable guests on this album as well. “Note To Self: Don’t Die,” which is squealing rock with a wonderfully ironic title, features a snotty lead vocal, along with Parker Posey (his current belle) providing nice chick-rock backing vocals. “Do Miss America” has backing vocal help from Melissa Auf Der Maur (formerly of Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins). Guitar -- and loudly rocking guitar at that -- is Adams’ musical color of choice for this album. Yet, ironically, the quietist cut on the album is the title track (“Rock N Roll”), which is actually a piano ballad. “The Drugs Not Working” also includes some of Adams’ synth noodling.

Ryan Adams may never stick to any one particular musical outfit for long, but at least for now, he sounds right at home in the tight leather pants and dark sunglasses stage wear of Rock N Roll.

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