Music Reviews
Rock N Roll

Ryan Adams Rock N Roll

(Lost Highway) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Anyone who reads the music news is aware of the problems Ryan Adams had with his proper follow-up to 2001's Gold (apparently, the worthy Demolition doesn't count). For those who don't bother, here it is in a nutshell: Love Is Hell was supposed to out in the summer of 2003, but was rejected because Adams went goth with his country album and turned out a bunch of suicidal ballads. As a reaction to Universal's disapproval, he then went back to the drawing board with a slew of animosity in his pocket and recorded an album filled with biting rock songs that praised 80s college radio rock.

Few can argue that since 2000's Heartbreaker, Adams has not lived up to his potential. Zig-zagging between the alt-country he helped popularize with Whiskeytown and the trendy rock his friends The Strokes have been glamourizing, he claims to be writing full-length albums on a weekly basis, yet what he's shown hasn't met the world with unanimous acclaim. Gold, for instance, was a glossy collection of adult-contemporary, modern rock that was championed by the GAP and left many scratching their heads over whether Elton John's love hadn't softened him up too much. And yet, Rock N Roll creates another itch, but over new circumstances.

The blatant album title suggests a poke at the recent surge of interest in the underground's graduation to the mainstream in rock, yet there are no traces of sarcasm or parody on Rock N Roll. Even with song titles as unbelievably deadpan as Note To Self: Don't Die and The Drugs Not Working, Adams doesn't let his guard down for one second. Using his infamous bravado to fuel the monstrous guitar riffs and such bold statements as "Los Angeles is dead", there isn't a touch of humility anywhere either.

What comes as a big surprise is the era Adams has tapped into to release his angst. Though he's reportedly recorded The Strokes' Is This It in its entirety, Adams has swerved around the garage bandwagon for the sounds of two decades ago. Produced by James Barber (Courtney Love's beau), Rock N Roll puts a heavy emphasis on guitars and underlying synths, with nods to Husker Du (volume), Echo & The Bunnymen (moping artistry) and U2 (dramatics). Opener This Is It mashes the snarling, chunky riffs of The Replacements with touches of new wave effects that leaves a slightly raunchy aftertaste. 1974 goes so far as to vie for Neil Young's Rockin' In The Free World, only to fail and end up with The Vines' 1969. Surprisingly, the only lulled moment is the tear-stained, piano-led title track, which seems like it would feel a lot more at home on either Love Is Hell EP.

Yet, no matter how clichéd and predictable this record gets, there are always some undeniable hooks to lure you back in before your patience wears thin. The familiar sounding Do Miss America is a top-notch ode to Paul Westerberg, as is Wish You Were Here, with its gratuitous need to repeat the word "fuck". The single, So Alive, is excessively theatrical and enjoyable, giving Bono a run for his money with spot on Edge-y guitars and painful howls.

Rock N Roll marks a complete departure from the alt-country past that made Adams a star in the first place. However, now that Love Is Hell has seen the light of day and brought smiles to his Heartbreaker admirers, all of the negative attention Rock N Roll has stirred up should fizzle out. Whether you think he's an unmistakable talent or just a spoilt, mouthy has-been, it's best just to consider this record a freebie and accept the gluttonous display of "rock 'n' roll".