Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11
Written by John Metzger
Thu November 20, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
Without a doubt, Ryan Adams has had his share of problems over the years. Each time he has appeared as if he were poised to carry his career to the next level, he would do something that inevitably would sabotage his progress. Nevertheless, in spite of his erratic behavior and self-destructive tendencies, Adams has held onto his recording contract. In the process, he has assembled a solid body of work, with highlights that include his double-disc opus Cold Roses as well as last year’s mini-album Follow the Lights. His latest set Cardinology continues his waltz toward a more mature outlook, though like its immediate predecessors, unqualified success lies just outside of Adams’ reach.
The biggest improvement that Adams made with Cardinology is, perhaps, in his lyrical focus. Instead of presenting a series of songs that are united solely by their musical arrangements, Adams has sculpted a remarkably cohesive narrative. Throughout Cardinology, he directly addresses his aching heart and mind as well as his disaffected and directionless existence. Rather than being claustrophobically despondent, however, the outing radiates optimism and hope because as Adams looks back on how he managed to face his demons, he ultimately finds salvation. For a guy whose ego typically has led him astray, Cardinology provides a surprisingly honest and heartfelt assessment of his life in recent years.
There was a time, of course, when Adams would create and abandon personas, seemingly on a whim. To many people, his strategy was a symptom of his rebellious nature. At the same time, though, it also tested the patience of at least a few of his fans. In hindsight, it may have been self-loathing that repeatedly caused Adams to alter his course as he ran away from the notion of ever creating an identifiable artistic personality. Although his work has always been approachable, with Easy Tiger, Follow the Lights, and, now, Cardinology, Adams seems to have developed a higher degree of comfort with simply being himself. This, in turn, has translated into a more consistent stream of outings that have managed to retain his eclectic inclinations while also funneling them into a marketable framework.
For the record, there is nothing on Cardinology that Adams hasn’t attempted before. In a sense, the album is an amalgamation of the arena-ready constructs of Rock N Roll and the laid-back, country-imbued refrains of Cold Roses. As always, Adams’ influences remain easy to chart, too. Let Us Down Easy, for example, bears the chiming guitars and gospel-soul architecture of U2, while Fix It settles into the easy-going funk of the Eagles circa 1975. Elsewhere, with Like Yesterday, Adams makes an improbable mixture of U2, the Allman Brothers Band, and the Staple Singers function quite well, and on the set-closing Stop, with its fragile arrangement and anguished vocals, Adams takes a page from Coldplay’s manual.
At first glance, Cardinology gives the impression that as Adams has found stability in his life, his music has lost some of its edginess. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, Adams has developed subtler ways of exploring his anxieties and making his point. Although it sometimes takes longer to develop a connection to his material on Cardinology, Adams’ thoughtful expressions ultimately uncover deep-seated emotions that resonate with greater force, leaving no doubt that the best is yet to come. ½
Of Further Interest...
Cardinology is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box