I’m not sure if there are any musicians who I genuinely hate, but, if there is one, it’s very possible that it’s Ryan Adams. Between his frustrating, erratic concert performances and his insistence on recording and releasing every stray thought that comes into his head– resulting in some mightily uneven albums, containing just enough memorable moments to keep me coming back for more– it’s hard to shake the notion that this genuinely talented guy just doesn’t give a damn about his fans, his critics, or his reputation. And it’s infuriating.
So I’m as surprised as anyone to hear myself saying that his upcoming album with his band the Cardinals– baring the atrocious title Cardinology— is good. Quite good, in fact. Sobering up probably had a lot to do with it, but, whatever the reason, this is his most impressive, consistent, and lovable album since his debut, Heartbreaker. And what’s really strange is that it’s not that much of a departure– it still finds him dealing in the same country-rock and Deadhead grooves of his last few albums. The difference is in its feel, but that difference is all the difference, because, for the first time in ages, Adams doesn’t sound like a poseur– he sounds like he’s making the music he loves, the music that comes naturally to him, actually synthesizing his influences rather than just shamelessly aping them. And the songwriting is markedly improves; gone are his affectations and his arrogance, and, in their place, there’s heartfelt compassion, spiritual seeking, and genuine humility. And the Cardinals, of course, are in fine form– but then, they’re almost always the highlight of an Adams album, so that’s no big surprise.
The album comes out on October 28. I’ll have a review posted before too long, but, in the meantime, I’m on record saying that this one’s a keeper. His first in what feels like a very long time. Welcome back, Ryan.