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Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire (PAX-AM/Capitol)

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Ryan Adams - Ashes & Fire

By Wallace Wylie

The fact that Ryan Adams is still getting press is a good example of everything wrong with our current critical climate with regards to music. 

Here is a man seemingly incapable of hearing a song without writing one that sounds just like it. (Have you heard the new single ‘Lucky Now’? It sounds like ‘Used Cars’ by Bruce Springsteen.) His back catalogue is less a product of inspiration and more an indicator of what he was listening to the day he wrote a particular song. “Shapeshifting” was the word Pitchfork used to describe him recently, a laughable description for somebody whose “shapeshifting” seems to consist of deciding whether to sound like the country-rock of Neil Young or the country-rock of the Stones. Perhaps that’s unfair, seeing as he sometimes sounds like country-rock Dylan, country-rock Creedence and country-rock Grateful Dead. (Just to round things out, he sometimes sounds like The Replacements as well). When I say “sounds like” and “country-rock” I mean in a third-rate bar-band kind of way, in an Eagles kind of way. His lyrics contain all the trite profundity of Jackson Browne or James Taylor, peppered as they are with cheap Dylanisms and hokey, homespun observations of the kind Don Henley would assuredly endorse.

New album Ashes & Fire is his first proper album in a couple of years. With some tragedy, a recent marriage, and apparent sobriety all happening since his last release, this album is undoubtedly supposed to show some maturity on Adams’ part as he communicates some hard-earned wisdom from a life of excess, as well as the joys and sorrows of love. As expected, Adams stretches the cliché beyond breaking point until it becomes pointless mentioning which lyrics are the worst. They are all terrible, they are all bereft of inspiration, and they all take banality to hitherto unknown regions. The name of the first track is ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’. Do you believe me? Would you care if it were? ‘Dirty Rain’ is the song’s actual title, which is almost as bad. The lyrics are garbage, not even worth discussing. To those who take delight in the English language, stay well away from this album. The words have died of boredom before they have even left the singer’s lips. The words are corpses, rotting and putrid. Steer clear.

I would talk about the songs individually but there is no point. It would be like talking about the intricacies of a Nora Roberts romance novel. Given how prolific Adams is, and the fact that he has been writing the same song since day one, the Nora Roberts comparison is more than apt. There are no intricacies on this album. There is only human emotion reduced to prepackaged, predictable and comforting soundbites. When I say comforting, I don’t mean it in a warm, loving way. I mean it in the way empty, sexless relationships where neither partner wants to leave the other are comforting. Cold comfort. Comfort for the afraid or the emotionally dead.

The music is for the most part subdued. In other words the Replacements influence is non-existent. There are songs on this album called ‘New Kid In Town’, ‘Rocks’, and ‘Chains of Love’. If you’re wondering whether that’s true I would ordinarily see that as a problem. The bigger problem, however, is that two of those songtitles are real. Which ones? Does it matter? Does anyone give a fuck? Certainly not critics. I can almost see the forthcoming reviews for this album, overflowing with words like “soulful” and “hushed”. You’re probably going to see “maturity” in there, perhaps “aching”, almost certainly “intimate”. Did I mention that Norah Jones provides some backing vocals? I’m sure nobody else but Ryan’s close personal friend Norah could have provided these songs with that extra bit of soul, though maybe Emmylou was busy.

You still want to know what the songs sound like? They sound exactly how you would imagine them to sound. The title track is a ragged folk-waltz, ‘Kindness’ is a lush testament to the healing power of love, ‘Save Me’ is an intimate country-rock lament … look I can’t play this game anymore. This album is awful. It is beyond awful. It is a waste of your time. Trust me; you can do much better than this. You deserve better. I am truly sorry if you think the things Ryan Adam describes on Ashes & Fire are real emotions. They are not. They are the words of a person whose imagination is comatose; it is the poetry of the mundane. We are all in the gutter, but that does not mean we have to drink from it.

Ryan Adams has bought into every rock’n’roll cliché imaginable and shamelessly parades them with each new album. You know the fucker is hoping for a divorce so he can have his own Blood On The Tracks. Did he not make enough money appearing in those Gap commercials? Must he ape his record collection for the next 30 years? We don’t need another Jackson Browne. We didn’t even need the first one. This album thinks it’s Tonight’s The Night by Neil Young, but it’s really Night Moves by Bob Seger. Conservative, hackneyed, and dull beyond belief, Ashes & Fire is overflowing with everyman heartbreak, and it is surely only a matter of time before that exclusive Rolling Stone interview where Adams puts his heart on his sleeve about death, love, and the ingredients of a classic album. Fuck this bullshit. Enjoying Ashes & Fire means you are dying internally. It means you are already reducing your emotions to easily compartmentalised, sentimental shadows of real emotions. Don’t die. We need you here among the living, and we need you here right now with your complicated, unclassifiable emotions. Ashes & Fire is a gravestone for your heart, but I don’t think you’re ready for the cemetery just yet. Let Ryan Adams have his Rolling Stone front cover and his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dreams. Your inner life deserves more than pitiable scraps of empty baby-boomer sentiment regurgitated for the new millennium. Please trust me on that.

38 Responses to Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire (PAX-AM/Capitol)

  1. Stina September 30, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Something is wrong with the world when someone could be as horrible with words such as those who’ve replied so far as well as the so called author of this so called post. This big Ryan Adams (AND Nora Roberts) fan has to say you were definitely a jerk for this piece. Not liking someone is one thing (there are plenty of artists I don’t like) but using such awful garbage to run someone down? Ignorant. Sorry – normally don’t reply but it must be said.

  2. Dan September 30, 2011 at 9:53 am

    This reviewer’s argument is so poorly laid out that it almost isn’t worth replying to. A guys sounds a bit like Bruce, or Neil, or the Eagles on different songs and he gets crucified for it? Would it appeal more to your hipster cred if RA only had one gear e.g. Oasis and repeated the same song over and over?

    If sounding like mid-70’s rockers is your real issue then you must have no time for the Band Of Horses, Fleet Foxes, Hold Steady’s and many many more of this world. Sure Ryan nicks inspiration from different places but he always acknowledges it. Art isn’t created in a vacuum.

    What is so awful about “Dirty Rain” as a song title? Judged on title alone, is it any worse than “Brown Sugar” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit”?

    “Enjoying Ashes and Fire means you are dying internally”. I haven’t heard the album yet, but will one day with a more open mind that you’ve displayed in this review. I have to wonder about your state of mind when you can harbour so much hatred for a collection of songs.

    To give you the benefit of the doubt though- if I like the Ryan Adams sound, but don’t want to “die internally” – who out there today meets your standards?

  3. Tom R September 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Dude, didn’t you get the memo? Springsteen is totally hipster now!

    http://pitchfork.com/news/39906-watch-vampire-weekend-cover-springsteen-live/

  4. polarbearisdying September 30, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    ONCE UPON A TIME, I HAD AN EMOTION …

  5. ninetyieightytwo October 3, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    So. Massive post on Collapse Board listing eight reasons why you’re basically “wrong” if you disagree with a review.

    But. On the same site, a review which basically says that you’re “wrong” if you happen to like the music of Ryan Adams.

    Worse. Apparently, being a Ryan Adams fan means that I’m “dying internally”.

    How the hell am I not supposed to take issue with such bullshit?

    I could point out the many, many, many beautiful things that this music inspires within me, but what’s the point?

    What’s the point.

  6. D Stephens October 4, 2011 at 1:50 am

    WW,
    When is your new album of completely original music coming out? I can’t wait to be blown away by it’s groundbreaking musical brilliance! I assume you invented some new instruments and keys – badass!

  7. jon October 4, 2011 at 7:47 am

    yes but is it any good?

  8. Princess Stomper October 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    @ninetyieightytwo

    “So. Massive post on Collapse Board listing eight reasons why you’re basically “wrong” if you disagree with a review.”

    I think you’ve misunderstood the point of that other piece. Of course you’re not “wrong” if you disagree with a review, but some people express their disagreement in an inappropriate way. That was the point of that series.

    If you say “I could point out the many, many beautiful things this music inspires within me”, you are right in sentiment – that’s the perfect grounds on which to disagree with a review – but I would have to assume you have simply terrible taste in music!

    Personally, I’m even more mystified by the responses to this review than I was to the review in the first place. My first reaction on seeing the review was “why is Wallace wasting time slagging off a record that everybody knows is shite?”, but the responses have left me more puzzled still.

    If sounding like mid-70′s rockers is your real issue then you must have no time for Fleet Foxes”

    I’m sorry, I’m completely lost – I had just assumed that people just bought Fleet Foxes CDs at the petrol station because it was on offer and some “lifestyle” magazine had given it a good review.

  9. Ninetyeightytwo October 5, 2011 at 5:41 am

    So the consensus really is “I don’t like this and therefore nobody else should”.

    Why the hell should I have to justify or defend my taste in music?

  10. Everett True October 5, 2011 at 7:27 am

    So the consensus really is “I don’t like this and therefore nobody else should”.

    Collapse Board is one teeny-weeny-teeny-weeny-teeny-teeny-teeny corner of the Internet, 1982. A handful of opinions is hardly a consensus.

  11. Ninetyeightytwo October 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    It’s 9082.

    I was going to call myself Nineteeneightyseven, but it wouldn’t fit in the text box.

    Then I decided upon Nineteeneightyfour (edgy!), but it still wouldn’t fit.

    So I settled upon Ninetyeightytwo (it fit!), inadvertently spelling it incorrectly.

    But it was too late to change it and it stuck.

  12. Wallace Wylie October 6, 2011 at 7:56 am

    If you look around the internet, and read music magazines, the consensus seems to be that this is a good album. Maybe I should demand an explanation from all the people who like it:

    “How dare you call this a good album. Why should I have to explain why I don’t like it?”

  13. Ninetyeightytwo October 6, 2011 at 8:52 am

    I’m not taking exception to your calling it a bad album. I’m taking exception to your arch snobbery.

    It just really gets my goat when critics resort to insisting that people are wrong for liking something they don’t.

    What’s so shocking and offensive about the fact that people have opinions different to yours?

    The issue for me here isn’t that you dislike something I like. It’s that you make such an asinine sweeping statement as “if you like this, you’re dying inside”.

    If this site can be so pretentious as to set standards for its readers, then I think it should extend that standards should be set for its writers, too.

    And one of the first thing I’d suggest would be to stop with the reducto absurdum line of argument.

    That means you can’t reply with “Oh, so we’re not allowed to write bad reviews, are we?”

    Of course you are.

    You’re just not allowed to insist that people are “wrong” for harbouring opinions that differ from yours. This is because nothing could be snobbier; and if snobbery isn’t killing music, then it’s certainly doing its very best to suck all the joy out of it.

    Princess Stomper? If the fact alone that I like Ryan Adams would be enough for you to assume that I have “terrible taste”, then in turn I would be forced to assume extreme snobbery on your part.

    Are people only deemed to have “good taste” in as much as their taste aligns with yours?

    Personally, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “bad taste”. The closest you could possibly get to “bad taste” would be an instance whereby somebody only listens to something because they think it will make them look good. Beyond that, if they garner genuine enjoyment from whatever they listen to, then who the hell is anybody to judge their “taste”?

    I like to consider that, without exception, any song that’s ever been written has the power to change somebody’s life for the better.

    That’s why I’d never dare to accuse anybody of “terrible taste”. It’s pretty offensive, apart from anything else.

  14. Wallace Wylie October 6, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I find the music of Ryan Adams offensive. Hence my review. I don’t think snobbery is killing music. Quite the opposite. We need more snobbery. Bring on the snobs. I welcome you. Unless our tastes happen to disagree. Then I will berate you.

  15. Princess Stomper October 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    “Are people only deemed to have “good taste” in as much as their taste aligns with yours?”

    Yes.

    How many times have I said, “Everett True is a fantastic writer, but he has such fucking terrible taste in music?”

    (Clue: it’s a lot.)

    Does that make him a lesser person or a lesser writer for enjoying noisy punk bands that he thinks are wonderful and I think are dire? Absolutely not. By that same token, he can cheerfully berate me for my love of certain albums by Radiohead and the Smashing Pumpkins without either of us taking offence.

    If you haven’t had a really good finger-jabbing, name-calling verbal punch-up with your friends over music, you obviously don’t love it enough.

  16. Ninetyeightytwo October 8, 2011 at 3:50 am

    Yeah, obviously my respect of the taste of others just SCREAMS that I don’t love music.

    Look what you made me do. You made me resort to SARCASM.

    How could you?

    Ahem. I’ve had many, many many many finger-jabbing, name-calling verbal punch-ups with my friends, but not one of them would I describe as “good”. I do hate it when we argue.

  17. Robbo October 10, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    What a turgid, predictable, poorly-written ‘review’ and that’s not just because I’m a Ryan fan. I wouldn’t expect these darts of pure bile to be spewed out against any artist. That’s some real fucking hate you going on there, kiddo. And why do you seem so concerned about what other reviews think? Did you want to pre-empt them with this pointless little rambling diatribe?

    ‘ooh, it might get decent reviews, better stick to our manifesto and get a vicious attack in first’

    Plus, your non willingness to go into any details about the actual songs says to me that you either didn’t even listen to it or gave it a cursory listen even though you’d already made up your mind the words you were going to write.

    Epic fail on a grand scale.

  18. Robbo October 10, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    If you already find Ryan Adams’ music ‘offensive’ then why the fuck were you even allowed near this review?

    That’s not music criticism. It’s hacking a defenceless cat to death with a machete because you don’t like cats.

    When I’ve finished writing my review of Steps’ Greatest Hits, I’ll get back to you.

    Toodles.

    Incredible.

  19. Robbo October 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I left two comments. Where are they? I’m not wasting my time writing replies to this joker again…

  20. Everett True October 11, 2011 at 11:24 am

    For some reason, your replies went straight into the Spam folder, Robbo. It happens sometimes. I’ve rescued them and posted them. A fraction surprised you though they were worth keeping, though…

  21. Robbo October 11, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Ok, I will.

    Why this guy was let anywhere near this album is mind-boggling. Ryan Adams’ music he finds ‘offensive’ so his opinion is already formed. Lazy.

    Still, it seems to stick to collapseboard’s manifesto of caring what other reviewers think and getting in there first with a vicious attack just to go against the grain. I don’t think it got great reviews actually, but your reviewer’s preoccupation with what other reviews might think is plain fucking dumb and transparent.

    There’s very little in there about the music, which suggests to me that he gave it a cursory half-listen at most. He’d already constructed the frame of the review before he even illegally downloaded the album.

    We get it, you don’t like Ryan Adams. Don’t listen then, and certainly don’t review. Those carefully thought out darts of bile you spewed out are just plain vicious bereft of any humour or depth. This is not music criticism, this is an all-out personal attack on an artist you despise.

    Would Lester Bangs review Steps’ new Greatest Hits collection. Perhaps he would, but there may be some wit in there. The above review is devoid of wit, substance and is poorly written.

    Love your work though. More hatchet jobs against artists you consider to be popular. It’s just soooo controversial.

    Start with Coldplay. That’d be really fun and cool.

  22. Robbo October 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Now I look like rabid animal. Delete the first two if you must…

  23. Wallace Wylie October 11, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Tell you what Robbo, you keep using cliched phrases like “epic fail” and I’ll keep spewing bile on Ryan Adams.

    Twat.

  24. Everett True October 11, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Coldplay, huh? Here you go.

  25. Robbo October 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I think you’re the last person to be lecturing others about clichés (it has an acute accent), but I won’t go through the review again.

    You’re a critic, right? Does that give you carte blanche to call people ‘twat’ who disagree with you?

    Ok, I’m a twat because I took issue with your review which you wrote to provoke exactly the reaction you got.

    It’d be interesting to know what music you DO like. Be careful to sift through other people’s reviews before you answer…

    Sincerely,

    TWAT.

  26. Wallace Wylie October 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    So I’m getting grammar lessons from somebody who wrote “Now I look like rabid animal.”? I wasn’t going to stoop to correcting you on this but seeing as you think stuff like that is important I’ll just point it out. Does that count as an epic fail?

    Twat.

  27. Robbo October 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Ha, you got me. Was too busy with my rabies.

    All is forgiven and I agree with everything you say and do.

    It’s groundbreaking stuff.

    Keep it up.

    Yours,

    TWAT.

  28. Everett True October 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    A point of order here.

    According to the big fuck-off edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English (2006) that sits waiting for my six-year-old to dip in and out of, especially when he’s looking up the word ‘bozo’ with reference to his dad, cliched can be spelled with or without the acute accent. Or, if you prefer, clichéd can be spelled with or without an acute accent. I prefer with, myself, but find it a little odd that I do seeing that I usually prefer my language less fussy – e.g. minus the hyphens.

    Also: comments section on websites are unedited as a rule – by convention mostly, but also because of more practical considerations regarding time and currency and so on – and hence a certain amount of largesse is usually allowed, given that comments are frequently typed in on the spur of the moment. The odd missing ‘a’ or stray apostrophe are normally overlooked, as a matter of web 2.0 courtesy.

    Incidentally, this being a website that features contributors (and readers) from three separate continents (possibly more), both ‘largesse’ and ‘largess’ are considered acceptable in both readers’ comments and in published articles.

    See also ‘spelt’ and ‘spelled’. I have no idea why I prefer the American form of this word.

  29. polarbearisdying October 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    THE INTERNET. ALLOWING PEOPLE TO SHOUT “TWAT” AT EACH OTHER ACROSS THREE CONTINENTS.

  30. Everett True October 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    It’s a confederacy of twats.

  31. Wallace Wylie October 12, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Robbo is the Sarah Palin of music fans. He likes loads of mainstream, bland, familiar sounding stuff but then claims anyone who critiques that stuff is being predictable. I seem to remember he called people who criticised Oasis “Sheeple”. Robbo has gone rogue. He is the rebel willing to listen to the least cutting-edge, most predictable music, and he doesn’t care who knows it. Criticise Oasis: “Oh, how original. Nobody’s ever done that before”. Criticise Ryan Adams: “So groundbreaking.” Nobody is allowed to criticise blandness when Robbo is around. He’ll call it predictable. You know eating your own shit is a bad idea? In comes Robbo “Oh, like you’re the only one who doesn’t like to eat his own shit. How fucking predictable”.

    You know, I love The Beatles. Lucy Gulland does not. If I were Robbo my plan of attack would probably be “Oh, so you don’t like The Beatles. How predictable. You’re so rebellious and groundbreaking”. That’s a weak defence because ultimately it is more predictable to like The Beatles than not. Lucy is actually going against the grain. Will it change my mind about The Beatles? No, but I at least have the good sense to not try and talk bullshit about people who dislike them.

    polarbearisdying… why did you follow me from an Elliott Smith website that I used to write stuff on years ago (you used to constantly take pot shots at me then as well) just to make snidey little comments whenever I write something? Do you have some kind of obsession with me? Is it hatred? I don’t get it.

  32. Everett True October 12, 2011 at 9:47 am

    ultimately it is more predictable to like The Beatles than not.

    I agree with most of what you say here Wallace: but I also take comfort from this thought. More people dislike U2 than like them. Even more people haven’t heard of them. However massive Manchester United are – biggest club in Europe, whatever – ultimately, Alex Ferguson is (mostly) right when he says “everyone hates us” and builds that siege mentality around his team. Sure, they have 50m (or whatever) fans. That still leaves an awful lot more people who are NOT fans. Probably, more people ‘like’ Watford or some innocuous team like that.

    Would it be more predictable to like The Beatles than not, here at Collapse Board? Possibly. It’s debatable whether it would have been at my previous magazine (Plan B), however.

    It did make me chuckle when Robbo referred to disliking Oasis as ‘siding with the mainstream’, though.

  33. polarbearisdying October 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

    JUST TWATTING ABOUT

  34. Robbo October 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Christ, are you sure in the right game? You’re a self-professed music critic. A bit sensitive, aren’t we?

    And to remember a post I made months ago and quote it back at me, well, that just beggars belief.

    You got the reaction you wanted, as with that hatchet job on post-Roses bands, so I don’t really understand why you’re crying. Why didn’t you also bury The Roses? Are they untouchable?

    So, I like Oasis and Ryan Adams. That, of course must mean I have bland music taste. Far inferior to yours clearly. I don’t have to prove myself to a small man like you.

    You’re a fucking idiot, mate. A snob with no reason to be snobbish. The worst kind.

  35. colm harkin March 4, 2012 at 12:54 am

    wallace get a life.cant wait to hear your new album you snob

  36. C. June 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    “It means you are already reducing your emotions to easily compartmentalised, sentimental shadows of real emotions. Don’t die. We need you here among the living, and we need you here right now with your complicated, unclassifiable emotions.”

    My complicated, unclassifiable emotions are ridiculously simplistic as shit and have only ever gotten me into trouble or made me look like a shithead. Why am I supposed to find easily compartmentalised, sentimental shadows of real emotions to be a bad thing? At least those are easier to control.

    I really doubt I have some important contribution to make among the living.

  37. Wallace the Fucknuckle October 27, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I am an Oxygen Thief.
    Wallace the Fucknuckle

  38. Pingback: Father John Misty vs Ryan Adams | who is the biggest asshole? | Music That I Like

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