Taking a Listen
reviews of local & state music CDs
RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS — III/IV
For all of Ryan Adam’s relentless productivity in the last decade, missing from his catalog is what one might call a quintessential rock record.
He came oh so close in 2008 with Cardinology, but spates of pedal steel and violin linked it more closely with Cold Roses than his Voivodinspired foray into heavy music on the EP Orion, released earlier this year. With III/IV, he has it. As a whole, the substantial 20-song double album is drastically different over a larger sample size than anything he’s ever done. After hinting at “the sound he wants to get back to” in a Tweet referencing Frontier Ruckus’ last album, the gently complex country folk of Deadmalls & Nightfalls, Adams throws a heater right down the middle to those looking for a slow curve. III/IV fuses Replacements-style punk with the strapping Heartland rock of Tom Petty, scatters layers of synth in places where they’re least expected and draws heavily on thematic elements present in both Easy Tiger and Cardinology. Not surprising, considering these songs are actually remnants held over from the same sessions at Electric Ladyland Studios that produced Easy Tiger. The “bad idea” trope present in the so-reviledit’s-underrated “Halloweenhead” resurfaces in opener “Breakdown Into the Resolve” and later in “Users.” In the former, Adams demurely addresses his absence over the last two years in the song’s opening lines before launching into soaring guitar rock. He pulls back a bit to present the album’s prevailing theme of emotional distress in the form of “Dear Candy,” a lyrically playful song implanted with the notion of an illusory romance into his object’s mind. He does at times revisit past sounds. “Ultraviolet Light” hearkens the pop-rock of Love Is Hell, while his ode to a hopeless druggie channels the tenderness of Heartbreaker with a considerably more robust arrangement. Throughout it all, Adams deploys a keen sense of humor, poking fun at himself for past misgivings and his own inner dork. “Happy Birthday” addresses his period of substance abuse with the self-aware line “I’m your birthday cake and I’m lit,” while the jittery “Star Wars” pelts the listener with geeky references couched in a love letter. For those who can’t get enough of Adams’ flirtation with metal, “Icebreaker” is as heavy as anything he’s ever done, complete with an anthemic chant of a chorus and bits of crunchy bass. The jokes on you, though, as Adam’s starts to fly away into jangledom mid-song. In it’s entirety, acquiescence into III/ IV doesn’t come easy. It’s a lot of material to wrap your head around all at once, but it will come. And you’ll love it just like I love it.
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