Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Album Review: Ryan Adams- Ashes & Fire

The 2008 version of Facebook was great. In 2008, Facebook felt like a small fraternity of your closest friends sharing pictures together, sharing videos together, poking each other, and just having an awesome time without really speaking a word to each other. The 2008 version of Facebook was like a graduation party, a scrapbook, and a frat party all beautifully tied together by one connection. In 2008, Facebook was basically the online epicenter of nothingness. But just like everything that was once good, Facebook changed in a negative way.

Facebook became such a big secret among teenagers that now in 2011 almost every adult has one. This means the Facebook that was once a frat party is now more like an awkward family reunion combined with a daily online visit to church. The freedom of speech we once had online has now awkwardly turned into a freedom to have to friend Grandma, the elegant scrapbook of 2008 was now a textbook written in Braille, and what was once pleasure had turned into a torture filled obligation. The online epicenter of nothingness now officially meant nothing to us. Facebook had stopped be a generational hangout like it was in 2008 and had started to be the internet version of the Roman Empire in 2011.

In a weird way all the history of Facebook really teaches me is that quality should be valued over quantity. And in this way the history of Facebook reminds me a lot of Ryan Adams career. Ryan Adams had potential to be the country Conor Oberst before Conor Oberst kind of went country. He put out two near classic alternative country albums in two years in Heartbreaker and Gold. These two albums meant a lot to just Ryan Adams fan base. Adams fans loved the elegant storytelling of his vocals, the warmness and versatility of his vocals, the country feel of his songs, and the overall catchiness and quality of his songs. Adams had potential to be the man who made country music more than a punchline, he had potential to be a combination of Elvis and Oberst, he had potential to be one of the best songwriters of his generation, and at the least he had potential to be one of the decades most important artists. After Adams first two albums he was kind of like the Facebook of 2008. His fans were just one passionate youthful community and the music he was making seemed to be perfect for just that community.

But after 2008 Adams chose to expand his sound to make it for everyone, he decided to chose quantity over quality, and he chose to be remember as the guy who put out a lot of bad albums instead of being the guy who was remembered for redefining a genre with a few classic albums. Adams put out a bad collection of b sides in 2002 called Demolition, a bad rock album in 2003 called Rock n' Roll, a bad concept album of soft love songs in 2004 titled Love is Hell, a mediocre soft folk album in 2005 titled Cold Roses, another bad soft country album in 2005 called Jacksonville City Nights, an awful combination of Jacksonville City Nights and Cold Roses that was called 29, a mediocre pop album in 2006 Easy Tiger, another average country album in 2007's Follow the Lights, a slight return to form in 2008 Cardinology, and an unnecessary and equal horrendous heavy metal album in 2010's Orion. Since the brilliance of Gold, Adams has tried to put out an album for everyone but has really failed to satisfy anyone. Every new Adams album was sort of like an update to Facebook: it was supposed to add new things that pleased everybody but really it just took away things that actually pleased everyone. Adams career may have been bold but it was as forced as a poke from your Aunt Jane that you haven't talked to in ten years, it may have been experimental but it was as unnecessary as a timeline of every single event in your miserable life, and it may have been comforting but in the same way adding 500 friends you don't know is comforting. Adams try to expand to please everyone and failed. This is because we knew that Adams was supposed to be the artist who put out three classic albums over a ten year period, he was supposed to be the artist that defined the alternative country genre, he was supposed to be a combination of Bob Dylan and Kenny Chesney, and he was supposed to be one of the can't miss acts of the 21st century. But instead Adams has been like your Facebook friend who brags about having 920 friends but really only has two friends in real life (like how Adams will brag about putting out three albums in 2005 even though they all were mediocre,) Adams has become the Facebook update that everybody hates, and as late as October 9th 2011 Adams career was an empire of meaninglessness.

But with the release of Ashes & Fire, Adams has decided to deactivate the Facebook that was the meaninglessness of his career. Adams finally decided to take his time crafting an album, finally decided to make an alternative country album similar to Heartbreaker and Gold, and most importantly made an album that just pleased him instead of trying to please everyone in the entire world. On Ashes & Fire, Adams writes personal lyrics that could apply to anyone instead of trying to force lyrics that apply to the whole world. On Ashes & Fire, Adams just plays his acoustic guitar instead of trying to make a heavy metal record he is not capable of making. On Ashes & Fire, Adams vocals are so warm and heartbreaking that they are pure Gold. On Ashes & Fire, Adams returns to his most intimate 2001 style of making music. And thankfully for us their was no Facebook in 2001.

Adams still doesn't live up to the standards set early in his career but the important thing about Ashes & Fire is that Adams is no longer trying to live up to the fluff and unnecessary boldness of all of his other releases. Adams has finally chosen simplicity over boldness, he has finally chosen his acoustic guitar over his electric guitar, he has finally chose intimate storytelling lyrics over corny cliched lyrics, and he has finally chose making good music over having an interesting resume. Adams may have deactivated his Facebook with Ashes & Fire, but now he realizes that he has more friends in the outside world than he ever did online, he now realizes that he should make music for himself instead of trying to make music for the entire world, and he finally realizes just how good of a musician he can be when he decides to return to his roots. And for all that he at least deserves a poke.


Track List:

1. Dirty Rain
2. Ashes & Fire
3. Come Home
4. Rocks
5. Do I Wait
6. Chains Of Love
7. Invisible Riverside
8. Save Me
9. Kindness
10. Lucky Now
11. I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say

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