Ryan Adams’s Ryan Adams
An album review by Maddie White
Adams has a tendency to emphasize a power chord at the end of a verse, so powerful, rich, and soulful, that just that chord alone can make you feel the entire message of the song. This musical technique can be over-executed by many artists, causing it to lose its value. Conversely, Adams holds us back like water collecting in a dam, until BOOM, the floodgates are open. Therein lies the brilliance of this artist; in opposition to his apathetic and self-deprecating sense of humor, he manages to beckon an unusually powerful and sudden surge of emotion in his listeners, via the simple act of playing a certain chord at the right time.
Throughout his career, Adams has executed this technique to benefit his music. But his latest self-titled album, Ryan Adams, presents several emotional triggers in the most unlikely of moments. The album opens with his single, Gimme Something Good, which evokes a ghost town feel, rich with the feeling of past pain, triumph, romance, and strife.
The entire album is riddled with the question of “Where do we go from here?” In the opening track, he sings, “It’s like there’s no tomorrow, barely yesterday.” Keeping consistent with the ghost town theme, he croons about how everything that once felt new eventually turns to “shadows,” and he wonders, “how long do I have here with you?”
Even though we make progress in our lives, and often celebrate these moments, it isn’t easy to forget the times that life beat us up, stole our lunch money, and kicked us to the curb. When taken to a grander perspective, there was infinite beauty in those moments, because they shaped us into who we are, and gave us the strength to put up a fight and fend for ourselves. “Hell is rising, in front of my face,” he sings, “I’m free from desires, I rise above the maze; every step I take, closer to the sun.” Throughout the album, in various forms, Adams reminds us to put value into the things that made us who we are today, and to allow them to transport us to a higher version of ourselves.
However, allowing ourselves the opportunity to reminisce doesn’t come without consequence. Sometimes the pain is bitingly immense, as painted in the dizzying, impulsive, Southern-rock, ghosttown-bluesy hit, Feels Like Fire. “Just so you know,” he sings, “You will always be the hardest thing I will let go, Driving past your church and all the houses in a row, the feeling in my chest is fire.” He taps into human nature’s tendency to act on our emotions. Doing the “right” or “logical” thing all the time can be tiring and unfulfilling; Adams, like many artists, invites his own emotional grief.
Though we get the sense that Adams has made significant personal strides in several facets of his life, we empathize with his tendencies to flirt with the temptations that once affected him so deeply. He feels like a ghost, constantly haunting the memory of his old life, and we love him for that. This album is for the impulsive romantics, who, like Adams, have “been through some shit.” Enjoy.