The Man with the Golden Temper Tantrum returns . The fourteenth album by Ryan Adams is the most appropriate one to be self-titled. On Ryan Adams we hear the convergence of Country Ryan and Metal Ryan for his best album since 2005’s 29.
The follow-up to 2011’s mostly yawn-inducing Ashes & Fire is an album of stark, minimalist, pure-hearted rock’n’roll. The guitars are lean, stripped bare and fall in line with the rhythm section. The melodies are catchy and each song follows a basic verse-chorus-verse structure.
Adams wades into territory just slightly left of his usual countrified sound. Gone is the country twang from his work with the Cardinals. His voice is more subdued, mushier. There is a spookiness to the sound, a slight reverb on every guitar lick and howling background vocals (by Johnny Depp!) and creeping organ. It comes right in time for the onset of fall.
Throughout the album Adams sounds vulnerable and paranoid, like he’s singing to you from a dark room. Who knew sharing a life with Mandy Moore could get you so down in the dumps?
On “Kim” Adams deals with the sight of an old flame moving on with somebody else. “As the autumn leaves begin to fall,” he sings, “walking down the streets where we used to walk / I see him.” The guitars latch onto the constant pounding of a snare and each line is bittersweet. Other times he sounds dejected and spiteful. “I don’t love you anymore,” he sings on “Am I Safe, “I just want to sit here and watch you burn.”
“My Wrecking Ball” is the quiet folk tune Adams perfected on Heartbreaker and Gold over a decade ago. Adams’ narrative asks to be knocked down by the big wrecking ball, the person to fix his life. He’s beaten down and in need of a total rebuild. “You’re my wrecking ball, won’t you come and maybe knock me down,” he sings over the calm acoustic strum.
The album is filled with straight-forward, plainspoken lyrics (to greater and lesser degree). Most of the time Adams’ sings about having nothing to say, which after the second song makes you wonder, why even sing? Other times the simplicity of the lyrics leave open much to meaning. “Your name is like a false alarm ringing in my head, ” he emotes on “Kim.”
Ryan Adams was recorded at Adams’ home studio, PAX AM. It’s his first album to fully self-produce. On “Gimme Something Good” there is a disquieting desperation in Adams’ voice, not unlike Morrissey on “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” The repetitive pleaded refrain, with all its deadpan, somehow catches in the mind and gets stuck on a loop. It’s been a few years, but Ryan Adams has finally given us something good.