June 09, 2005

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals "Cold Roses"

Before we begin to discuss Ryan Adams' latest album, let's do something. Let's forget a few things, shall we? Let's forget about his image. Let's forget about how he's portrayed as a swaggering rock star, man-whoring his way around New York City like an unleashed, rabidly horny playboy. Let's forget about how many critics say his music is supposedly bad-boy rock, but it's mediocre at best, because he's simply playing cliches. Let's even forget about Whiskeytown, his vehicle to world's attention. Let's forget all about the things that supposedly make Ryan Adams the Ryan Adams we know and love and love to hate, because, essentially, they're not very important, and as they have very little to do with his music abilities, they're not worth mentioning.

Cold Roses, Adams' sixth album in five years, finds Adams in fine form. While it's true that Adams has always been prolific--he's got a few full-length records that are unreleased, part of which form the Demos album a few years back--he's yet to hit the point of diminishing returns. Last year's Love is Hell, was initally released as two EP's (the first being released the same day as Rock 'n' Roll) when his label refused to release it as an album, who claimed it as "too depressing" to be released as a whole record , proved to Adams' best record to date--but few paid attention. After releasing the one-two release of that record and the excellent (but surprisingly poorly-received) Rock 'n' Roll, Adams regrouped, set aside his ballsy rock fixation, formed a backing band and made a record that rivals Heartbreaker and Whiskeytown's Faithless Street in terms of raw emotion and musical depth.

But don't call Cold Roses an alt.country comeback, because he's been making this kind of music for years. This time around, Adams has given the world a double album, in the classic sense of the word; Cold Roses contains two discs, but each disc contains nine songs, and both discs never run more than forty minutes, and it's packaged in an embossed sleeve that's reminiscent of Seventies album art. Normally, such aesthetic matters should not have much bearing on a record. In this instance, the assumption that he's making a 'classic'-sounding record is instantly proven correct. (Heck, if you really wanted to be pedantic, you could point out that the programming even feels like a classic vinyl record, with the sides ending/beginning at songs five and six, which seems to be echoed in the lyric booklet.)

On first listen, you'll notice that Cold Roses is sad, it's heartbroken, and it's mellow in a Southern California kind of way. While Adams hasn't turned into the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac, he has borrowed their tasteful blending of country and rock, while his backing band never buries his songs underneath big arrangements. Like Heartbreaker and Love is Hell, Adams is once again returning to the theme of heartbreak and disappointment. Thankfully, he's not pulling a "woe is me" attitude, opting instead to explore the different aspects of love in song. The idealism of a broken-hearted person's new love in "Easy Plateau" contrasts the pain and morning-after regret that comes with a careless free-love lifestyle of "Cold Roses." The heartbreak of loss in "Now That You're Gone" and "When Will You Come Back Home" is tempered with the pure emotions of longing in "Friends" and "If I Am A Stranger."

It's hard to pick a song that's "best," because every song on Cold Roses is excellent in its own right. Thanks to Cold Roses' adept design, each song's strength is accentuated. Not considering that an eighteen-song album would be too song-heavy to be appreciated, the two discs make for concise, no-bullshit listening, and it keeps the singular subject matter from overwhelming the listener. Having burned both discs on to a single disc, it's also quite fair to say that Cold Roses could not have worked as a single album--these songs are too good to be ruined by loading down a record and the listener; the magic and beauty of each song would be diluted by making it a convenient for the listener.

Cold Roses is an album to be proud of. It's simple, it's heartfelt, it's beautiful; it's everything every critic expected from Adams after he stunned the world with Heartbreaker. Hopefully, Cold Roses will send those critics back to Adams' previous records, and hopefully they'll get it this time, and they'll cease with this pointless, baseless Ryan Adams bashing. It' no matter if they don't, because Adams' next album will most likely trump Cold Roses. It'll be a hard feat, but then again, Adams really hasn't disappointed us in years.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.ryan-adams.com
Label Website: http://www.losthighway.com

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