Last time we received a dispatch from Ryan Adams, the self-styled savior of rock & roll, it was in 2003, when he delivered his straight-up rock & roll record (aptly titled Rock N Roll) and his two-part mope-rock EP (later combined as one LP) Love Is Hell. Admirable records both, but not quite the sequel to Heartbreaker that fans craved. They also ...
Last time we received a dispatch from Ryan Adams, the self-styled savior of rock & roll, it was in 2003, when he delivered his straight-up rock & roll record (aptly titled Rock N Roll) and his two-part mope-rock EP (later combined as one LP) Love Is Hell. Admirable records both, but not quite the sequel to Heartbreaker that fans craved. They also weren't quite as successful as all the hype surrounding their release suggested that they would be, so Adams briefly retreated from the spotlight to regroup, heading back in 2005 with a planned triptych of new albums, the first of which is the double-album Cold Roses, recorded with his new backing band the Cardinals and released at the beginning of May. Three albums in one year is overkill even for an artist predisposed to releasing his every whim, and while it's too early at this writing to judge whether he needed to release all three of the records, it's safe to say that Cold Roses is the record many fans have been waiting to hear -- a full-fledged, unapologetic return to the country-rock that made his reputation when he led Whiskeytown. Not that the album is a retreat, or a crass attempt to give the people what they want, but it's an assured, comfortable collection of 18 songs that play to Adams' strengths because they capture him not trying quite so hard. He settles into a warm, burnished, countryish groove not far removed from vintage Harvest-era Neil Young at the beginning and keeps it going over the course of a double-disc set that isn't all that long. With the first disc clocking in at 39:39 and the second at 36:29, this could easily have been released as a single-disc set, but splitting it into two and packaging it as a mock-gatefold LP is classic Ryan Adams, highlighting both his flair for rock classicism and his tendency to come across slightly affected. As always, he's so obsessive about fitting into classic rock's long lineage that he can be slightly embarrassing -- particularly on the intro to "Beautiful Sorta," which apes David Johansen's intro to the New York Dolls' "Looking for a Kiss" in a way that guarantees a cringe -- which is also a problem when he drifts toward lazy, profanity-riddled lyrics ("this sh*t just f*cks you up" on "Cherry Lane") that undercut a generally strong set of writing. But what makes Cold Roses a success, his first genuine one since Heartbreaker, is that it is a genuine band album, with the Cardinals not only getting co-writing credits but helping Adams relax and let the music flow naturally. It's not the sound of somebody striving to save rock & roll, or even to be important, but that's precisely why this is the easiest Ryan Adams to enjoy. The coming months with their coming LPs will reveal whether this is indeed a shift in his point of view, or just a brief break from his trademark blustering braggadocio. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi