With every musical project I undertake come new lessons I get to learn. Around the time of Life As We Know It (2008) I was learning the power of a strong bridge and honest lyrics. With Of Triumph and Glory (2010) I studied the layers that go into songwriting and recording. This time around I feel like I’m learning a lot about albums in the context of a career and how that context informs the release. Ryan Adam’s self-titled album is a perfect example of that.
It’s hard to talk about Ryan Adams without mentioning his prolific nature. This is an artist who released three records in the same year and consistently put out fourteen/fifteen song albums when not releasing EPs or double albums. For better or worse, writing music is as natural as breathing for him. Yet what I appreciate most about this album is its brevity. It’s not one borne out of lack of inspiration: right around the time of this release he silently put out a punk rock album that’s almost impossible to find but exists nonetheless. I believe this album is short because it was finished.
With only eleven songs, every minute of this album feels crucial. And while it’s not Heartbreaker sonically (he does stray a bit from the alt-country sound), it feels slightly more accessible for new listeners – albeit not entirely representative of his career. Adams usually sports an acoustic guitar and harmonica but for this album he fronts an electric with the exception of a couple of songs. But even with the drift from his usual sound and the presence of a distorted guitar, it’s different from Rock N Roll. Whereas Rock N Roll at times felt forced this self-titled album feels natural. It lacks in neither beauty nor passion and fails to feel contrived.
For a while I’ve wanted to write a music project on an electric guitar and this album gives me the thumbs up to do it. While it’s not the quintessential Ryan Adams record, it’s still pretty amazing.