The Soul Gets It
A singer, songwriter and producer with a lush body of work prove Ryan Adams is no slouch. His credits as a producer link him with bands like Fall Out Boy, Counting Crows and Weezer, and Adams has recorded with alt-country band Whiskeytown, and later, the Cardinals. The release of his new self-titled album marks his 14th solo album. The 1970’s and 80’s rock-inspired sounds, and melancholy, abstract lyrics make for a rewarding listening experience best understood by the heart, not the head.
For a published poet with extensive experience, Adams’ darker lyrics on this album at first appear to fall short. Many songs feature the same or similar phrases repeated over and over. The repetition works on tracks like “I Just Might,” where the technique purposefully underscores the musical progression. But on other tracks such as “Kim” or “My Wrecking Ball,” the repetition doesn’t add, but rather distracts from the complex emotional palate Adams paints in most of these tunes.
In addition, often the meaning behind the lyrics seem so obscure, it’s hard to tell what exactly Adams is trying to say. Adams repeatedly asks, “Am I Safe? / If I don’t wanna be with you,” but doesn’t provide a clear answer or explanation throughout the other verses of “Am I Safe.” Despite the fact the lyrics are pretty puzzling, it almost doesn’t matter what the words say.
There is an element of text painting throughout the album, conveying the overall feeling of the lyrics through music, and providing an emotional layer of meaning to songs that transcends just words. For example, “Tired of Giving Up” uses an almost monotone melodic line that falls heavily on strong beats. The result is a plodding, tiredness to the tune, almost as if marching on autopilot, that emotionally matches the title of the track without even a single word.
The fact that Adams is a guitarist permeates the entire album, providing a flush and essential backdrop for the lyrics. This especially stands out on the track “I Just Might,” which opens with a low, rich, rhythmic guitar line. The song swells and releases between verses and chorus underneath the repeated line, “Don’t want to lose control.” This first builds up as if Adams will lose control, only to completely pause before starting over. The song later crescendos to Adams’ stretched, and borderline out-of-control, higher vocals, leading to the build up before returning to the subtler rhythmic guitar of the intro.
In the end, Adams creates an album, which although may be hard to understand on an intellectual level or through words alone, invokes an intuitive response and understanding to what Adams is trying to say. The soul gets it even if the head can’t wrap itself around the words. The emotional experience of Ryan Adams is well worth the repeated listen.