Ryan Adams Self Titled Album CoverArtist: Ryan Adams
Album: Ryan Adams
Label: Pax-Am
Release Date: September 9, 2014

After a series of bland, edgeless, mom-jean rock records, Ryan Adams has finally released an album everyone hoped he would make.

The highly prolific musical chameleon, perhaps more renown for consistently disappointing the critics that championed his potential following his solo debut Heartbreaker than for his actual output, returns in earnest with this self-titled collection.

Since 2005’s country throwback tour de force Jacksonville City Nights, he’s released five largely unbalanced and scattered albums of dull filler: 29, Easy Tiger, Cardinology, III/IV, and Ashes & Fire. Were there quality tracks on each of those albums? Sure. But for the most part, Adams sounded declawed throughout — a meandering, toothless version of himself.

During that span of time, the infamously belligerent alt-country icon had quit drinking and drugs; plagued by hearing loss and panic attacks courtesy of Meniere’s disease; and unfortunately guided by Neal Casal — the New Age-y, life-sucking guitarist in his then-band, the Cardinals. The reckless singer/songwriter’s lust for life seemed thoroughly squashed under a vacuum-sealed sheen for nearly a decade.

But with a new core group of musicians, and in his own Pax-Am recording studios, Adams has crafted an endearing record worth loving (also curiously released immediately on the heels of a magnificent 15-minute 7” album titled 1984 — but that vinyl-only, SST Records tribute is a whole other review): The lifeless, meandering sound of his past few albums have been replaced by a style torn straight out of the Tom Petty/Fleetwood Mac songbook. Smoldering electric guitar stabs burst and recoil in wide open spaces on “Trouble,” “Gimme Something Good” and “Stay With Me,” while slow acoustic strummers such as “Let Go” and “My Wrecking Ball” nearly conjure up the Adams from that one album — you know the one, where the songsmith lay on a bed with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

All the brilliance hinted at on his under-appreciated Replacements-homage Rock N Roll and Smiths-adoring Love Is Hell albums are finally re-imagined, retooled and spectacularly released in full right here. There’s an underlying vocal confidence and lyrical gravitas that boost this effort, and on a track like “Tired of Giving Up,” he crafts a solid, mid-tempo love song with an instantly familiar dose of ’80s-leaning melody and a simplistic, heart-heavy title refrain of “I’m tired of giving up so easy / I’m tired of giving up at all.” If this album were a John Hughes movie, it’d be the tune playing when our awkward, unlikely protagonist finally mans up, leans in and lands that world-shattering, film-ending kiss.

Does Ryan Adams reinvent the wheel with this album? No. But he doesn’t need to. It’s just good to have him back.

By: Dustin Lothspeich