[13 January 2009]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
As has been the case for the bulk of his career, the veteran Canadian rocker Bryan Adams continues to maintain a huge international fan base. Take his 1996 album, “18 Til I Die.” It was a No. 1 hit in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Australia and all over the United Kingdom. Even here in the States, where Adams remains best known for early-‘80s MTV pop-rock hits and a string of movie soundtrack ballads, the album went platinum.
And all that pales next to 1991’s “Waking Up the Neighbors,” which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and 1984’s “Reckless,” which sold 5 million in this country alone.
The globe-trotting has only increased since then. During the past decade, Adams has maintained his international following by playing at least one week every month in a different part of the world.
“I don’t really strategize any of it,” Adams, 49, said by phone last week, as his current tour rolled through southern Florida. “I just go with the flow.”
This week, the singer of guitar-driven, hook-happy, rock radio staples “Run to You,” written for but rejected by Blue Oyster Cult, and “Summer of ‘69, as well as the epic movie ballad “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You,” returns in rather modest fashion. Adams is performing without frills and without a band, as part of a solo acoustic tour that began last year with the release of his 11th studio album, titled “11.”
“I started out doing this pretty much to challenge myself,” Adams said. “I tour with a band all the time, but I wanted to do something to push myself. A solo show is more about getting back to basics.
“This isn’t like an unplugged thing. It’s rawer than that. Besides, even when I did my unplugged album (1997’s all-acoustic “MTV Unplugged”), I still had a band. This time it’s just me.”
“Back to basics,” in Adams’ book, can have multiple meanings. First, there is the chance to revisit the songs in settings similar to those in which they were written. But mostly, a solo acoustic tour is more than just a chance to unplug from bands and massive amplification. It’s an opportunity to demystify much of the celebrity status that has been tied to Adams’ music during the past three decades.
“I really like the simplicity of it. I can tell some stories and explain certain things about the songs that maybe I wouldn’t be able to do if I had my band with me.
“All the songs started in a room somewhere when I was by myself, so there is no reason why they can’t work by themselves in front of an audience. Some obviously work better than others, but I’ve got it all down now. I just wish I had started doing this 10 years ago. It’s been really fun.”
The idea for an unaccompanied tour began with “11.” There are strong acoustic elements to the record, particularly on the album-closing “Walk on By.” The tune, one of three songs on “11” to reteam Adams with fellow Canadian songsmith and longtime writing partner Jim Vallance, uses only acoustic guitar and strings to accent the scratchy, weathered contours of Adams’ singing.
“‘11’ started out as an acoustic record,” he said. “But at some point in making it, I felt that would have been too much of a departure. So I went back to making a regular record. But the foundations of the songs were still acoustic-based. When you listen to the album, you can tell. The acoustic sound is a predominant part of the record.”
Don’t let the simplicity and intimacy of the solo acoustic tour suggest that the scope of Adams’ music and career is shrinking.
Over the years, he has forged a resilient bond with the film industry. Sure, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” remained a No. 1 hit in the United States for two months in 1991 (and more than twice that long in England) because of its placement in the Kevin Costner movie “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” But Adams’ music has found a home in a number of stylistically varied films, from collaborations with composer Hans Zimmer on the animated “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” to a Golden Globe-nominated song, “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” featured in “Bobby,” Emilio Estevez’s fictionalized biopic of Robert Kennedy.
“I don’t think I could have imagined any of this,” Adams said of his Hollywood connection. “All I wanted to do at first with my music was pay the rent. Suddenly, to be working with great composers like Hans, Michael Kamen (co-writer of “Everything I Do”) and Marvin Hamlisch (on “I Finally Found Someone,” performed as a duet with Barbra Streisand on 1996’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces”) was just incredible.”
Adams has forged a fruitful relationship with moving pictures, but he also has discovered a passion for still photography. His photos have been published in Vanity Fair, British Vogue and Interview. Adams’ Web site, www.bryanadams.com, features a wide sampling of his work, including a wonderfully regal portrait of singer Harry Belafonte. Adams even takes his own picture at times.
“I keep that side of my career pretty quiet,” Adams said almost dismissively. “I don’t have an agent or anything like that. I just do it because I love it. I get to work with different magazines. It’s fun.
“It’s a very different world from music. I suppose that’s one of the things that attracted me to it. Still, there’s this idea of creating something out of nothing. Those kinds of things just spur me on.”