Not too long ago, I did a post about an “ASSESSMENT WRITTEN (BY) RYAN ADAMS, HIMSELF,” in which Ryan purportedly summarized the worth of his own solo catalog in his inimitably self-deprecating style. It appeared to be a legitimate Ryan-penned artifact; and I am happy to report that it’s not only for real, but you can view the original item at an Indianapolis record store called Indy CD & Vinyl.
After hearing from a fellow who used to work at the store, I called up owner Annie Skinner to ask about it. She placed the date of origin as Aug. 3, 2006 — when Ryan played a nearby Indianapolis club called The Vogue with Juliana Hatfield.
“He stops by here pretty much every time he’s in town,” Skinner said. “And, um, he can be pretty messed up. (Note: Perhaps that accounts for the fact that Ryan claimed to be 33 years old at the time he wrote this, when he was actually only 31 in August 2006) I’m sure you know that Ryan will get into relationships with record-store clerks where he’s calling and sending stuff. There was one staff member here he became friendly with, a guy he put on the list for the show and even played a song for. That (self-assessment) was something he did for him.”
The Indy’s staff was kind enough to send along a picture of the framed document, which used to hang on the wall at the store until, alas, it fell and broke; note the bottom left corner of the frame. So they had to dig around a bit to find it. But anyway, here it is.
Believe it or not, I really don’t go out of my way to be contrary about Ryan Adams’ late-period work. With every record he’s released since the Whiskeytown days, I’ve put in a fair amount of listens, trying to find something to like. And while they all have some merit (or at least a handful of decent songs), overall most of them come up short for me. That goes for the current eponymous album Ryan Adams, which has drawn mostly positive reviews but still strikes me as somewhere between meh and okay. There’s a song or two on it that I’ll find myself humming along with, but for the most part my preliminary conclusion on it from just over a month ago still stands:
A self-titled album, especially by someone who has been around a while, implies a statement-of-purpose declaration of sorts: This is who I am. And what bothers me about “Ryan Adams” is just how generic it is. It’s not bad — in fact, it’s perfectly pleasant while it’s playing — but it also sounds like something that any number of other people could have made. I’d rather hear another record that Ryan and only Ryan could have made. Given his thoughts on his own catalog, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Maybe ever.
If I thought that Ryan could no longer do this kind of work anymore — if he had really moved on from that phase of his life, personally as well as artistically, to the point that it just wasn’t in him — I believe I could reconcile that and move on myself. But then he does something like his latest seven-inch EP, “Jacksonville”-“I Keep Running”-“Walkedypants,” and it just keeps me hangin’ on.
It’s not flawless, of course. “Walkedypants” is one of Ryan’s infamous in-studio goofs, two-and-a-half minutes you’ll never need to hear more than once. The other two songs, however, could be the missing link between Whiskeytown’s dark masterpiece Strangers Almanac and Ryan’s ambitious ornate-pop effort Pneumonia (with a little solo-era Cold Roses thrown in). More than a decade and a half later, he’s gone from sounding older than his years to sounding like he’s finally caught up with himself.
In glorious shades of pop-twang, Ryan sketches out yet another bittersweet lament for the old North Carolina hometown he used to curse. But you can’t tell me he doesn’t love it now, just from the way his voice quavers on the “Oh, Jacksonville” chorus. It’s heart-stoppingly lovely. Then, just to split the arrow in the bullseye, he follows that with another attempt to explain in song why he’s still running away from it after all this time.
I’m faster than the pain
That’s running through my veins
And you can’t break my heart if you don’t know my name
I keep running…
But that’s the thing. Run from something long enough and eventually you’ll find yourself running back to it (“Run To You,” indeed). And close to 20 years since Whiskeytown’s heyday, Ryan can still resonate on that wavelength when he gets a mind to. Had he done a whole album like this, he’d deserve the current round of accolades and a whole lot more. Instead, he puts out a major-label album that sounds like second-rate Tom Petty/Bryan Adams mash-ups while relegating his best work in years — songs that sound like they actually mean something! — to a limited-edition seven-inch release.
You have gone missing from my life…
Ryan Adams is better than Ryan Adams and “Jacksonville” proves it. I really wish I could have picked someone less frustrating as object of neurotic fandom. But for the seven-and-a-half minutes “Jacksonville” and “I Keep Running” are playing, it feels just like old times.
That’ll have to do.
So this week has brought the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass festival/convention to Raleigh, which has kept me insanely busy (whew; I enjoy IBMA, and yet I’m also glad it only happens once a year because I need more sleep than this). But I still had an amusing little Ryan Adams moment the other night, listening to a band from Minneapolis called Monroe’s Crossing playing a deadpan bluegrass version of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” — and thinking about past fits Ryan has thrown over that very song. Could not help but giggle, especially given the Monroe Crossing frontman’s introductory description of Bryan Adams as music harsh enough to annoy parents.
What made it even funnier in retrospect was hearing that Ryan himself dipped into the Bryan Adams catalog the same night, performing “Run to You” onstage at a show in Santa Barbara, Calif. Someday, maybe he’ll deign to do “Summer of ’69” and the circle really will close.
Meanwhile, Ryan also recently unveiled yet another 1984-vintage cover, I Want To Know What Love Is,” the super-maudlin and epic power ballad by Foreigner; to go with his earlier Pointer Sisters “Neutron Dance” cover. Given his current Orwellian predilection for that era’s artifacts, can accompanying covers of “Purple Rain,” “Footloose” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It” be far behind?
Whatever overall long-term critical consensus emerges on the new Ryan Adams album, this much is already certain: It represents a new U.S. chart peak for Ryan. The album sold a healthy 45,000 copies in its first week to debut at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 album-sales chart for Sept. 27 — right behind R&B singer Jhene Aiko at No. 3 and country singer Lee Bruce at No. 5.
Reaching No. 4 represents a three-spot jump beyond the No. 7 peak Ryan had with both 2011’s Ashes & Fire and 2007’s Easy Tiger.
It probably would have helped “Losering” in the marketplace if its publication had coincided with one of Ryan Adams’ album releases. Alas, that didn’t happen. But this month’s release of Ryan Adams has belatedly reflected a bit of light back onto “Losering,” which has been nice. The latest place for it to turn up is on CMTEdge.com, the Americana section of Country Music Television’s website, which has a list of Ryan’s “10 Essential Songs.”
The author is Stephen M. Deusner, a very fine writer who happens to be the colleague who tipped me off about the Ryan/Bryan typeface similarity (and whose Pitchfork review of the new album Ryan brushed off even though it was quite fair, at least to me). I also like the fact that the entry quoting “Losering” comes right before one of my favorite obscurities in Ryan’s catalog. Check it below.
Multiple reviewers, including yours truly, have pointed out that some songs on the new Ryan Adams album sound strikingly similar to Ryan’s name/birthday doppelganger Bryan Adams. And in an email discussion, a critic colleague of mine mentioned that the Ryan-and-Bryan similarities extend to the area of typography, too — most notably the cover of Bryan Adams’ 1984 album Reckless (from whence came “Summer of ’69,” a song Ryan hates hearing about).
So I decided to take a look for comparative purposes, and…well, see for yourself. Compare the typefaces and, except for Bryan’s use of italics, they don’t look similar so much as identical. Maybe it’s just coincidence; but don’t forget that Reckless came out in what seems to be Ryan’s favorite year, and Ryan is an unabashed Bryan Adams fan.
No doubt, Ryan will also be picking up the Super Deluxe Edition four-disc box set of Reckless when it comes out on Nov. 25.
ADDENDUM (10/17/14): According to Ryan, the similarities between these two covers are entirely coincidental.
So the new album Ryan Adams came out yesterday, accompanied by the obligatory press blitz as well as some goofy infomercial work by Ryan and friends. Both the album and Ryan’s latest round of live shows have drawn generally (but certainly not unanimously) positive reviews. And Ryan himself stirred up a pot or two with a lengthy Stereogum Q&A interview in which he referred to his former band the Cardinals as “that fucking shit sandwich,” causing much angst among more avid fans of his late-period work.
As I’ve said before, this should not surprise anyone because Ryan seems to be one of those artists who needs to destroy the past before he can move on from it. Whether it’s former bands or his own catalog, he goes out of his way to disown everything after the fact. Not too many years ago, he was talking about the Cardinals as his musical soulmates; but now that they’re in his rearview mirror, Ryan holds up his current band The Shining as his latest end-all-and-be-all. Nevertheless, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that he’ll one day dismiss The Shining in similarly poetic terms.
Meanwhile, “Losering” is prominently referenced in a couple of stories that have come down the pike this go-round. First is a timeline-type listicle on vulture.com, “A Brief History of Ryan Adams, From Vices to Voice Mails,” which quotes from the book (with credit to the book as source, which I appreciate). And second is this admirably fair Ryan Adams review in Blurt magazine by my pal Fred Mills, who thinks a lot more of the new album than I do. But Fred makes the case for it well enough to help convince me that I should keep listening, and so I shall.
So good old Jon Wurster, who was one of Whiskeytown’s drummers back in the day, is playing in Bob Mould’s band nowadays amongst many other activities (some of which are cataloged here). In that capacity, he’s in Mould’s very fine new video for “The War,” a song off Mould’s current album Beauty and Ruin (Merge Records) that is brimming with intimations of mortality:
This war has worn me down
Broken dreams and a hole in the ground
Don’t give up
And don’t give in.
Lo and behold, Wurster’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Ryan Adams (who has been known to cover the occasional Mould song) also turns up in the video right about as Mould is murmuring those words. Ryan appears in the final 30 seconds of “The War,” in a cameo that seems to imply a passing of the torch. He comes in just before the 4:20 mark, looking pretty 420 himself (heh); check that out here.
While I’m at it, Wurster also appears in Mould’s first Beauty and Ruin video, for “I Don’t Know You Anymore” (which features another high-profile cameo, by Colin Melloy of Decemberists). And Mould is quoted speaking at length about Ryan in this very fine interview feature.