Ryan Adams has always been an acquired taste for music lovers, dividing opinion throughout his considerable career with a wild range of records both good and bad, but one thing you must credit the alternative country songwriter for is his constant need to switch it up and insatiable hunger to explore new musical territories, even if it has sometimes resulted in theatrical mishaps. Once again Adams is found shifting shape on Ryan Adams, his fourteenth solo release, as he reverts back to the rock style that was so aggressively dismissed on Rock n Roll back in 2003, a bold move both considering the hostile reception he received back then and additionally when you acknowledge the fact that Adams last truly stellar piece of work was the quiet folk beauty of 29 all the way back in 2005.
It becomes clear quite rapidly from the outset however that Adams is in fine form on this self titled collection, delivering a variety of vintage rock tracks that shine throughout with melody and poise, making it one of the most enjoyable easy listening experiences of the year. Acts such as R.E.M, Bruce Springsteen and a host of 70's and 80's classic acts flow through the mind instantly on the definitive songs that make up the spine of the album, from opener and ready made single ''Gimme Something Good'' and ''Am I Safe'' all the way through to ''Stay With Me'' and ''I Just Might'' on the latter end of the tracklist. The straightforward titles of such reflect the simplicity of Adams approach throughout the record but rather than this coming off as lackluster, the direct attitude of the songwriting harkens back to simpler times, creating a nostalgic buzz that populates the record and provides it with a warm and familiar atmosphere.
It's not all rock'n'roll though as we catch glimpses of the kind of beauty that is instilled in his finest works, with the short and awfully sweet ''My Wrecking Ball'' gifting us possibly the best moment of the album in a country acoustic piece that could easily slip into magnum opus Gold, while closing number ''Let Go'' is another particularly soft and special three and a half minutes that fades us out with the kind of wonderful tenderness that reminds you just how talented the man still is after two decades in the business. Elsewhere there are deeper emotions at work buried underneath the guitars with ''Kim'' revisiting the emotive, sentimental rock of Love Is Hell and ''Shadows'' featuring an intense build that's contrasted and resolved by carefree break up anthem ''Feels Like Fire''.
Throughout 11 tracks and 42 short minutes there's not a second wasted by Adams who delivers one of his best albums yet as he approaches middle age and seemingly begins to mature into a more reliable performer, a significant detail considering that consistency has been one element missing over the past 15 years of his solo career even while the level of skill was unquestionable. Now that Adams has taken the opportunity to label this simple yet brilliant album and its nostalgia based, classic sound under his own name we begin to get a clearer picture of the songwriter after all these years and hopefully an indication of what we can look forward to going forward.
Asked about the nature of the music prior to the album release, Adams stated ''I’m too old to pretend like I give a shit about doing something that’s not what I am'', and based on the quality of Ryan Adams, it's obvious that the man is best when simply being himself rather than caricatures he's played in the past. If we're lucky, then Ryan Adams could very well act as an introduction to a more dependable, reassured and rewarding side to alternative country's favourite son.
Review by Andrew Lambert | FOUR STARS