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Rock n Roll
Artist: Ryan Adams
Label: Lost Highway
Length: 14 Songs (48:43)
As a History major I understand that there is a very specific way of citing sources. There’s a convenient little “add footnote” button on word, and there are books to tell you exactly the order and information to put about the author you are quoting or reproducing ideas from. A rock and roll album does not have these devices. Ryan Adams’ though, in a token of unprecedented humility on his part, is doing his best to find a way of citing his sources. It is no coincidence that there are fourteen songs on his new album, it is no coincidence that the first song is entitled “This Is It”, and no coincidence that there is a song entitled “Boys” on the album… Ryan Adams is in a way clicking the musical “add footnote” button to Paul Westerberg, the Strokes, and the Beatles respectively. At this point I must, as a reviewer, do what Ryan Adams is doing here and echo what others have said. I’m not the only reviewer who will tell you that this is pure Paul Westerberg. If you’re privileged enough to have a copy of Paul Westerberg’s first solo album 14 Songs, throw it in the cd player directly after listening to _lRock n Roll_… yeah, uncanny isn’t it? It even seems to have thematic similarities in bitter love. Also both albums have great humorously vague songs in “Silver Naked Ladies” (Westerberg) and “Do Miss America”(Adams) When Ryan isn’t channeling Paul Westerberg, the driving pulsating guitars evoke the Strokes (it’s no secret Ryan has entirely covered song for song “Is This It?” in his past). Although the first song shows this most clearly, “So Alive” is like Jeff Buckley and the Strokes were on tour and closed with a blow the roof of the joint encore compilation. Don’t worry Ryan gives a footnote here as well. This is the fifth song, and the fifth track of Buckley’s Grace is the similarly titled “So Real,” and Adams’ song features the lyric “So alive it isn’t real.” Let me add it is amazing, one of the album’s highlights. You get the point though, this album has a lot of influences. The title is basically in fact is looking at rock and roll in a mirror and giving us what he sees. The result for the listener in true Ryan Adams form is to take it or leave it. That’s really where you, the buyer have to draw the line. I mean if you want a strokes album, why not just buy a strokes album? A valid question.
One answer to this question is convenience. If you want to hear 80’s glam-rock and all the aforementioned sources in one place, this is an affordable place to start. Not only that but it’s important to note that Ryan isn’t just ripping off other rock and roll peers, he’s picking darned good ones, and like a good mix tape, you can hear them all at once except under a greater coherency of being performed by one man, and that bring us to the next point.
Through in the citing of sources and reading of this as simply a rip-off album, I think the assessment of this album is wrong to stop there. There’s not a cover song in the entire bunch, and at their core the songs are original and unique as being very “Ryan Adams.” Adams lets you know this right off the bat, telling you as soon as the music kicks up “Let me sing a song for you, that’s never been sung before. All the words were meant for you, and never been said before.” Sure a lot of this music has been played before, but the words haven’t. The lyrics do not forsake the original cutting edge draw that his past ones have. Though this is the first time they aren’t the main story. There just simply isn’t a moment as bright as “When the Stars Go Blue” (Gold), “My Winding Wheel”(Heartbreaker), or “Paper Moon” from Adams’ former band Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia. The music though is better than ever and most of the time you get so wrapped up you stop even hearing the words. Though the lyrics are provided and are still quite excellent on their own terms. Some examples of this are clever words like in “Boys”, “I’m as lonely as boys, I’m as lonely as boys, I’m as lonely as monkeys taught to destroy anything they learn to enjoy”. Also the insightfully clever line from “The Drugs Not Working”, “She was a hooker at the age of sixteen, all she wanted was the money she didn’t need an I.D. She was a junkie, and I know its cliché, but then so was her life, I mean she lived in L.A. And it was making her cry… but it was making her high”. Interesting comments on the human condition.
So there it is, Ryan Adams has given his listeners an album showing off his musical knowledge and playing the music that he loves. Fortunately enough for us though he’s still Ryan Adams’ and he’s still lovesick. The title track still propels the character of Ryan Adams which is still one of his draws…
Everyone’s cool playing rock n roll…When all is said and done, it’s still all about some girl with Ryan. He’s still empty and longing and wants us to know it. In this album he gives us enough to know that while that’s still true, regardless he’s going to play us the music that he loves to give us his picture of rock and roll. In the words of Paul Westerberg “Gotta take something to make you feel good, Something ain't me but I wish it could finally find something to believe. Something is me”[i] It seems to be at the core of what Ryan Adams is all about.
Matt Kilgore 11/9/2003
[i] Paul Westerberg, “14 Songs” (Sire Records, 1993), Track 12
Stocki finds The Strokes,
U2 and Nirvana lurking in the new Ryan Adams album, warns of its din to
sensitive ears but questions the expectations of the music critic.