At some point, I think right after the terrific Rock N Roll, I stopped listening to Ryan Adams albums. I’m a longtime fan from the first Whiskeytown record forward, so more out of habit than anything else I kept buying them, but I would give them a couple of listens and then forget about them. It wasn’t a conscious thing.
I realized that I was doing this after I had purchased Cardinology, listened to it twice, and then let it sit on my desk for two or three months. I recognized that this was ridiculous behavior–I either needed to listen to the damn albums or stop wasting my money. So I made myself give Cardinology a bunch of listens, determined that this was either going to be my last Ryan Adams record, or I would buy future releases and actually play them.
And I think I’ve figured out what the problem is–I’m having a hard time accepting Ryan Adams as an easy-listening artist, which is what he has become. I don’t hold this against Adams–artists often mellow as they grow older, so the progression is natural. But he’s no longer the raw Adams I fell in love in with–the one who wrote “1974,” “Excuse Me If I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” and “New York, New York.” He’s no longer the alt-country Adams I fell in love with, either–the one who wrote “When the Stars Go Blue” and “Too Drunk to Dream,” although there are still flashes of it. It doesn’t look like either of those things are going to change anytime soon, so I either needed to accept that or move on.
Begrudgingly, I’m going to accept it, because Cardinology is a fine album even if it’s not the album I wanted him to make. The songwriting is of a high caliber, not a lick of filler on the thing, a consistency rarely achieved on the Whiskeytown and Adams albums that I love. His band, The Cardinals, is capable, and they have a nice, laid-back chemistry. And yes, I could complain that the production is too slick, but he’s an easy-listening artist now, and that comes with the territory. I need to accept this, even if he makes it a little tough on me by throwing in “Magick,” a rip-roaring glimpse of the Ryan Adams of old that makes me pine for a nonexistent Rock N Roll, Part II.
So now that I’ve made my peace with the new Ryan Adams, I need to go back and listen to the rest of the albums he released after Rock N Roll, currently gathering dust, and give them a chance as well.
Of course, if the old Ryan Adams were to make a comeback, he’d be welcome with open arms. But if he doesn’t, I’m OK with that. I really am. Mostly. Sort of.
“Born Into a Light”: