I am a Ryan Adams fanboy. I’m not afraid to admit it. Thus I should lap up everything he does. This, however, is not always the case. I find that Ryan Adams fans fall into three categories. There’s the first who love the more radio-friendly stuff such as Gold and Easy Tiger. Then the second category has the more country David Ryan Adams (the people who probably loved Whiskeytown in their heyday). They count Jacksonville City Nights and Heartbreaker as their favourites. The third category love the dirty Ryan Adams, the rockier fella who storms off the stage at any and every opportunity. They’re usually fans of 29 and Rock N Roll.
That said, not everyone fits into a particular category. Ryan does have loads of other records, EPs, and Sad Dracula-type releases. Many of us DRA fans fall into a few of these categories, or straddle two. And then do real music fans want to categorize themselves? Such as emo or goth or whatever. Anyhow, the point I really want to make is that the newest Ryan Adams & The Cardinals record falls into the first category more or less. It’s an extension of Easy Tiger and the Follow the Lights EP. Although probably not as good as either.
There are some great songs on here, but none are up there with Ryan’s best. ‘Cobwebs’, ‘Fix It’ and ‘Sinking Ships’ are all very good songs, and on tenth listen sound much better. But all of these songs are so much better live. If you’ve seen any of the videos on youtube or downloaded any of his recent shows from archive.org, you’ll hear how much better the Cardinals are live. The Cardinals are a live band. But this never transfers over to the records.
There’s no sense of urgency. It’s all too easy ‘Go Easy’, ‘Let Us Down Easy’. Where’s the live Ryan? The man who makes interesting records under the guise of Were Wolph? The only song that even hints at this is ‘Magick’, which is a good attempt, but at the same time is a poor man’s ‘Halloweenhead’.
The album isn’t a failure though. It’s probably Adams’ most consistent record. It’s not all over the place. If mid-tempo country-rock is what you’re looking for, Cardinology has it in bucketloads. ‘Natural Ghost’ may well be the worst thing he’s released in years, but songs like ‘Crossed Out Name’ and ‘Evergreen’ more than make up for that.
It’s not a bad album. It may well be one of the top 25 records I’ve heard this year. It’s just that Ryan Adams and the Cardinals are capable of much more. So much more.
If that 20:20 Box Set ever gets released, you’ll see what I mean. Destroyer, Suicide Handbook, 48 Hours all so good. All so unreleased. Come on Lost Highway. Don’t leave us hanging.