Album Review: Ryan Adams – Cardinology

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.

Three and a Half Stars

“Born Into a Light”:



2 Responses to Album Review: Ryan Adams – Cardinology

  1. Jason Austinite says:

    Well, you may not have to worry about buying another Ryan Adams record in the future, because, according to Pitchfork, Adams wrote a blog post on 1/14 claiming that he is quitting music.–ryan-adams-is-quitting-music-says-ryan-adams

    However, if you go to the blog, that post has been deleted, so maybe not. The excerpts from the alleged blog post that appear in the Pitchfork article make one thing clear, though: Ryan Adams has the emotional maturity of a fifteen year old girl.

  2. Wow. That article certainly doesn’t paint a pretty picture, and, as it’s in his own words, he painted that portrait himself.

    I know that he’s being sincere when he talks about stage fright. Way back in the Whiskeytown days, before they were on a major label, I bumped into him before a show that was starting Sunday around noon or maybe even earlier–it was one of those “secret” SXSW shows in an alley off of South Congress. We spoke briefly, and although he was nice as can be, he confessed to being nervous and he was nursing a beer to try to get himself to relax before the gig. This was a gig in an alley, and there were maybe fifty people there if I’m being generous, but he was freaking out about it.

    That particular gig was a mess, but I saw them play a couple of other times, and when they were on, they were awesome. Never seen him solo.

    When I talked to him, I requested that they play “Top Dollar.” That was one of the few songs from their first album written by the other guy. Oops!

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