Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
Lost Highway, 2008
REVIEW BY: Kenny S. McGuane
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/13/2008
Ryan Adams needs to take a breather.
Between his critically adored band Whiskeytown, his solo albums, and his work with The Cardinals, Adams has released thirteen albums in thirteen years. Of course, this sort of thing was normal during the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, but on the whole those artists had better quality control and were, well…they were just better overall. Not to take anything away from Ryan Adams -- there’s no denying that he’s one of the most talented American songwriters making music today, and even his shittiest of albums still contain songs that are far and away better than most of the nonsense being played on the radio. But he’s no Dylan.
Adams’ third album fronting The Cardinals, Cardinology, is his most focused and cohesive effort since 2000’s Heartbreaker, even more so than last year’s highly acclaimed -- and overrated -- Easy Tiger. On Cardinology we find a Ryan Adams who has settled in nicely to the Cardinals’ musical palette and the end result is a record that sounds like it was made by a band, a single musical collective. This is a good thing for Adams; it keeps him in check. A meaty production with a tight rhythm section and layered steel guitars, Cardinology’s sonic aesthetics compliment Adams’ trademarked -- and often irritating and overdone -- perfectly imperfect vocals quite nicely.
Still, despite the musically unified end result, Cardinology is probably the most uninteresting Ryan Adams album to date. It starts off damn strong, too. Album opener “Born Into A Light” and the second track “Go Easy” compete with the album’s first single “Fix It” for the best on the record. All three are solid Ryan Adams tunes, even if they’re utterly predictable. Sadly, after only three songs, the album heads downhill, and in the end listeners are left with nine more songs that are simply too dull to stomach. They’re not offensively bad songs, just not songs one would expect from a writer as talented and experienced as Ryan Adams.
Adams gets tons of hostility from critics for his genre hopping, but it’s the genre hopping that always seemed to spit in the face of these critics because unfocused or not, the quality almost always outweighed the patchy and erratic play lists. Given the innocuous Easy Tiger and the just plain boring Cardinology, fans and casual listeners are forced to choose between the musically bipolar -- but fascinating and versatile -- Ryan Adams and the more focused, uninteresting Ryan Adams.
The former is a hell of a lot more exciting.
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© 2008 Kenny S. McGuane and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Lost Highway, and is used for informational purposes only.