Ryan Adams never fails to amuse his listeners, whether it is due to his music or his renegade lifestyle over the past decade. Beginning with a stint as the bandleader in Whiskeytown, Adams established himself at the forefront of the alternative country/rock genre while simultaneously gaining notoriety for his overt drug use. In 2000, Adams moved on from Whiskeytown and has since recorded as a solo artist with others and his band The Cardinals.
For those unacquainted with Adams, he is especially infamous for his single “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad Is To Be High),” which has appeared in several movies including Old School. His first album Heartbreaker put him into the national spotlight, thus giving him a place amongst the likes of other alternative country groups such as Son Volt, Wilco (in its early days), Old 97’s and Uncle Tupelo.
Adams is also one of the more prolific songwriters of our time, releasing three albums in 2005, including the notable Cold Roses. Since then, Adams has finally kicked his drug addiction, rectified his public image and polished up his sound, which seems to be a source of contention for much of his more diehard fans.
Besides producing a less raw sound, he has also departed somewhat from his more country roots and has, as of late, been moving more towards pop/rock. Nonetheless, with the release of Cardinology, Adams seems to finally be comfortable with himself and his direction as an artist.
Musically, Cardinology is a continuation of Adams’ last album, Easy Tiger. The tone is at many times relaxed, poised and pensive, created by lyrics that convey his experience and new view on life. The album also contains his contemporary country touch but in a much less pronounced form. In this aspect, he seems to lean more towards the poppy side, one that does not contain the same gritty, raw edge that some of his previous albums exhibit.
Although they may not have been nearly as polished as this one, their renegade country aspect gave Adams a sense of expressive artistry that Cardinology for the most part lacks. Consequently, the relaxation of the tone clearly diminishes what, for me at least, makes Adams so unique – his gritty, unrestrained approach to every one of his songs.
Truthfully, there are only a handful of songs on this album that possess any semblance to his former edge. One such song is “Evergreen,” a folk rock number in which he yearns for the love and tranquility he is bereft of. To be fair though, Adams has now found a style in which he seems too comfortable and that may be more appealing to the more pop-oriented listener.
The two prevalent lyrical themes of this album seem to either deal with finding inner peace or regret. In the first song of the album, “Born into a Light,” Adams expresses hope for the future by advising the listener to “be patient oh the past is just a memory and heal/ heal your vines and you’ll heal your inside eventually.” The acoustic, electric and slide guitar parts serve to highlight the optimistic mood of the song through their folky melodies and harmonies.
Cardinology is the next logical step in the artistic progression of Adams. Even though it may be knocked as lacking the reckless style that characterizes his previous albums, it still nonetheless contains a sense of aesthetic uniqueness that one must love or at least respect. Adams seems to at last be nearly content with himself after so many years of inner conflict.