Some day, I’ll sit my grandkid(s) on my knee and tell ’em all about a brief, shining moment in American history. Being so recent, I know it’s fresh in your memory as well.
Of course, I’m talking about the moment in our history (Gold) when Ryan Adams was actually awesome. Hold onto it as long as you can, kids, ’cause that moment is long fucking gone. And it ain’t coming back.
Adams is a dangerously prolific songwriter, which means you can expect at least one album from him pretty much every year. Last year, it was Easy Tiger, an embarassingly adult-contemporary offering that was the sort of album for which the phrase “shit sandwich” was invented.
His latest with The Cardinals is called Cardinology. You like that? See, it’s a pun on his band’s name. Fucking hell, Ryan Adams. What have you wrought this time?
To be fair, Cardinology is not as ear-splittingly awful as Easy Tiger but it also doesn’t come anywhere close to the pleasant-enough mediocrity of his three 2005 albums. It starts off with “Born into a Light,” which is Adams’ attempt at assuring you everything is gonna be just hunky dory. How anyone can sing shit like that these days is beyond me. Look: I’m not against singing about how life is beautiful, because it often is. But asserting that everything is gonna be great is 1) way too general to mean anything and 2) patently false. There’s no possible way for everything (think about everything. Fucking everything.) to work out all right. So sing about how you think a person’s life is gonna be okay despite the fact that it sucks now or something; don’t traffic in platitudes, Ryan Adams. You fucking wrote “Cannonball Days,” although I’m starting to think it was someone else.
Overall, Cardinology commits two egregious crimes. First, most of it sounds ready to be spliced into a fucking montage on Grey’s Anatomy. Second, the parts that aren’t ready for your girlfriend’s favorite TV show sound just as bad as the adult-contemporary shit on my parents’ favorite soft-rock station. There’s nothing wrong with being mellow (Sam Cooke proves this) and it’s not as though you can’t rock as you get older (Tom Waits, Wayne Coyne, and Joe Strummer prove this). But Cardinology is lacking in vitality from start to finish. Half-distorted guitars play zippy little white-blues licks in and around Adams’ new-found pseudo-Bonoisms (he does the soaring vocal thing on this album more than anyone ever should and the real bonus is he sucks at it). The singer-songwriter “genre” is overcrowded with this kind of shit and Ryan Adams used to be above it.
“Magick” is one of the only attempts at a straight-up rocker on the whole album and it’s two-minutes of utter shit (“You’re like a rain cloud/ if it rained mushroom clouds”). It does feature a reference to zombies, which usually goes a long way with me but the bridge is a repetition of “what comes around goes around” which is a phrase that should be banned from the earth along with the words “maverick” and “socialist.” For a better zombie song, try out Jonathan Coulton’s excellent “Re: Your Brains.” You’ll be glad you did.
Lyrically, Adams stuffs Cardinology full of some of the worst writing I’ve ever heard. This is probably a product of recording every fucking song he writes, which is really just a manifestation of seriously unchecked ego. I’ve written literally hundreds of songs in my life. As of right now, there are about three that I would play for anyone. And I’m not saying that I’m on a par with Ryan Adams as a song writer, but if Cardinology is any indication, I’m Tom fucking Waits next to “I was waiting around for someone to die/ nobody did/ but a part of me died I suppose/ from all that waiting.” Seriously, to my current and future (and past!) bandmates, if I ever write or suggest that someone sing something that stupid, I expect to be punched in the face and nutsack until I pass out.
The only song on this album that mostly avoids either being skull-numbingly boring or riot-inducingly awful is the closer “Stop,” which is actually pretty nice. Except it just makes me want to listen to “Wise Up” by Aimee Mann, a far superior songwriter to Mr. Adams. “Stop” is a good way to sum up an album like Cardinology: “If you wanna make it stop/ then stop.” So I stopped the album. Good day, Mr. Adams.
I said Good Day, Sir!