A horrible hack

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Year Released: 2014
Format: LP
Label: Pax-Am
Reviewed by Andrew Revis on Nov 4, 2014
Strange things can happen to a singer-songwriter fourteen albums into a long, lauded career. David Bowie may have given us his last great album, Scary Monsters, but Bob Dylan offered up the perfectly average Planet Waves, Elvis Costello got a string quartet in and went all classical on The Juliet Letters, Bruce Springsteen decided a whole album of Pete Seeger covers would be a neat idea (it wasn't) with We Shall Overcome, Van Morrison turned to Scientology and got a bit bored of singing on his Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart, and Neil Young lost his shit and released one of the worst albums released by anyone ever, Trans.

Ryan Adams has apparently approached the big one-four full of self-doubt, to the extent that he binned his first attempt, a completed sixteen-track album, and instead chose to release eleven tracks of mid-paced, '80s-sounding arena-rock nonsense.

His influences are certainly laid bare. Phil Collins, Richard Marx, Sting, Bonnie Tyler, Foreigner - all the classics. And more than anyone else, Bryan Adams! Oh Ryan, the irony of turning into Bryan Adams. You, the oh-so-serious troubadour who used to storm off stage when some cheeky scamp in the audience would shout for Summer Of '69. And I can only hope you're taking the piss with that record cover, so much like that of the Reckless album by your new hero. If so, that self-awareness is this album's greatest plus. If not, I really do despair.

So, fifteen years into a solo career, we've done jaunty alt-folk swagger (Heartbreaker, Gold), intimate, dramatic heartbreak (Love Is Hell, 29), hooky blues stomp (Cold Roses, Easy Tiger), and tongue-in-cheek fan-boy pastiche (Rock N Roll, Orion). And now we arrive at charmless, cliched, soft-rock irritant.

And yet in places this is still an oddly endearing album, warm and unthreatening. That could be as much to do with nostalgia for '80s dad-rock as much as anything else, that inescapable feeling the next track could be The Boys Of Summer or Is This Love? or Run To You. He's even taken to covering that last track on recent tour dates. This is unacceptable.

Let's not lose faith just yet. This album may be our first real loyalty test, but Adams' glorious back catalogue holds eternal hope within it. Like all those Neil Young fans upset and confused on hearing Trans, remember there could still be a Freedom, a Ragged Glory, and a Harvest Moon to come. Dylan's follow-up to Planet Waves was Blood On The Tracks! Most worrying of all, though: for all those questions regarding Adams' quality control of his prodigious output over the years, after a relatively long wait this time round, how surprising that this one is so utterly hollow at its core.

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