Somebody call 911! Ryan Adams is on fire!
Three years is pretty much the industry standard gap between releases for the Rock 'n' Roll elite, but for Ryan Adams a 36-month drought is weird. Eerie. Unnatural. A real disturbance in the force. You almost feel obliged to knock on his front door and check he's okay. This was, after all, the guy who delivered a dozen albums in a single decade as well as “Cryogenically Preserving” God knows how many more. Alas things change. In these recent, comparative 'wilderness' years Adams has all but retreated to the “Millennium Falcon” cockpit of his 'PAX-AM' bunker like some Sunset Strip JD Salinger. Living a clandestine afterlife in the shadows, Adams has been busy pushing knobs and twisting switches for Jenny Lewis, Fall Out Boy and Ethan Johns, starting ungoogleable side projects (Pornography), planning a heartwarming novel about “A loveable rat”, herding cats, mastering pinball wizardry, chasing E.T. and indulging in virtual swordplay with Sean “Little Chicken Man” Hannity. Basically everything except releasing a Ryan Adams record.
Well hurrah 'n' hallelujah then for Ryan Adams. A record so Ryan Adamsly, 'Ryan Adams-ish' it could only be called Ryan Adams. Having scrapped – a snip at $100k! – one potential follow-up to 2011's Ashes & Fire because it was "slow, adult shit", Adams again rallied round the spiritual superheroes of his youth; Broooce, Petty, the 'Mats, Smiths, Velvets. The result is this re-energised, Veteran smart and surprisingly groovy but bruised beauty. It's not country, nor punk, but classic heartland rock 'n' roll with swagger. Lots of swagger. It's also probably what 2003's happy scrappy hero pup Rock N' Roll should've been. But beneath the 'Lust for life', 'You'll never take me alive' exterior it also harbours a troubled soul whose crystal visions are rife with fire, empty streets, sleepless nights, prowling ghosts, bad luck, dark rooms and destruction.
Opener and recent single "Gimme Something Good" is a pretty good indicator of the spirit of Ryan Adams' Class of 2014. With the Heartbreakers' Benmont Tench onboard to navigate "Organ and piano weirdness", it simmers, shimmies and shakes with Adams smashing his guitar like flint, frantically firing sparks out of the dark. It has all the bad ass, "Come get it" bubblegum attitude of Damn the Torpedoes-era Petty with a determined, fist punching, "This ain't over" firework chorus. It's Adams rolling away the stone, climbin' out of the cave, jonesin' for salvation, "All my life been shakin' / Wanting something."
The cosy campfire introspection of Ashes is done. Adams is in a mood to burn bridges, kick down some walls, run to the hills and let... it... go. "Trouble", in particular, is all muscle and brawn with some blistering guitar. After so long on the down-low it's thrilling to hear him vandalise a six-string again with such vigour. "Everything here is gonna BURN", it broods, rumbling full steam ahead like a freight train driven by some pissed-off orphan of Petty's "Refugee". "Am I Safe?", meanwhile takes the rhythmic strum 'n' bob of Blur's "Coffee & TV" and stirs in some gorgeous Johnny Marr-esque wonderfall melodia and angelic harmonies courtesy of Mrs Adams, Mandy Moore. A spinning wheel of paranoia and vulnerability with Adams running like Hoffman on the lam in Marathon Man. "Am I safe if I don't wanna be with you?" it ponders before concluding, "I just wanna sit and watch it burn."
The effects of his war with Ménière's are the subject of the smouldering crawler "Shadows". A five-minute, sweat-soaked, slow burn with Adams playing the Matador staring down his demon, "How long do I have here with you?" It's captivating. It's a pussycat though compared to the Gruffalo growler "I Just Might". It recalls the dread of Springsteen's gunslinging' "State Trooper". A red-eyed, rockabilly greaser with Adams the caged bear burning with bad desires and big fuckin' claws. It stretches the tension to nail biting effect, finally snapping with a roaring "Baaaaaby I just miiiiigggght". It'll be stunning live. Of these rockers, only "Stay With Me" falters. Alongside the album's Reckless winking artwork it's seemingly a doff of the cap to Adams' 'Brother from another mother' Bryan. "Run to You" basically. It's like the Adams family heckling each other across the yard, "In the middle of the night?" yells Ryan. "Oh when the feeling's right!" Bryan would likely reply.
It's not all pyromania and power chords though, much of Ryan Adams is still for the lovers. The Johnny Depp-starring "Kim" pines on Lonely Street, a broken heart slipping through cracks in a photograph. A beautiful loser in the key of the Replacement's "Answering Machine" or Adams' own doe-eyed dreamer "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?" The last of the summer wine and one parting glance in the rear view mirror, "I watched you walk away / To be with him." Equally romantic but considerably more euphoric is "Feels Like Fire". Sunny side-up with the streetwalkin' bounce of the Velvet's "Sweet Jane" and the dizzy joie de vivre of the Smith's "Ask". "You can take me anywhere / Roll us into heaven / I don't care." The album's warmest, most joyfully liberated, 'Close your eyes and jump' moment, with Adams flipping the bird to darker days, "Looking back at my [spits] fuckin' life."
"Tired of Giving Up" similarly stands up in the gutter, dusts itself down and reaches for the stars. With a forlorn, childlike, toy piano melody, it captures much of the walking wounded, "Carry me home" ache of Adams' buddy Jason Isbell's "Traveling Alone". Finally "Let Go" -- the most serene, Ashes & Fire-like track -- offers a happy ending of sorts. A way out of the maze but with a price, "Cross your fingers behind your back and lie to me." It's "My Wrecking Ball" though that wins 'Best in Show'. A magic bullet straight to the heart. As instantly classic as former sweetheart of the rodeo favourites like "Come Pick Me Up" or "When the Stars Go Blue". Before you're done the first listen you'll be throwing your arms around it like a long lost friend, possibly whilst sobbing. "Hey! / You're my wrecking ball / Won't you come and knock me down?" A heartbreaker.
There's a lot of fire in Ryan Adams, both literally and metaphorically. "The feeling in my chest is fire" cries its creator. Luckily this fire is neither heartburn nor indigestion but a survivalist's manifesto of soul, sweat and swagger. If it doesn't haunt like the hallowed highs of 29 or Love Is Hell this still excellent record finds Adams' mojo and mercury on the rise again. On the edge of his fifth decade on planet Earth, he still walks the line between "Youth gone wild" and wise old owl "Adult shit". Forever then in spirit a little bit punk, a little bit country.