As its title implies, Rock N Roll was Ryan Adams’ attempt to put out a pure rocker of an album after the success of Gold and the non-success of Demolition, which was basically a collection of outtakes released as an album between Gold and Rock N Roll.
As far as the tone of the album goes, Adams succeeded with the “rock” vibe, but unfortunately slapping more fuzz on the guitars and picking up the tempo does not rescue the songs themselves, which are not nearly as well-drawn as on previous and later releases. The conventional excuse for why this happened is that Adams was producing music at a frenetic pace, often recording three or four albums worth of material and then releasing it all as EP’s, compilations and, in this case, a full-fledged album.
I think Rock N Roll’s issues can be traced to the more common problem of the follow-up album. Gold was a big hit and Adams, like a ton of talented songwriters before him, wanted to do something different on his next album. So he changed the tone, wrote lyrics that weren’t nearly as heartfelt (or at least they didn’t seem like they were, which is part of the problem with Rock N Roll) and packaged it all as a massive change in direction when in reality, if you look at what he’s done since, Rock N Roll was really more of an anomaly.
However, Ryan Adams is a talented guy, and even though the album doesn’t work as a whole, there are some great songs on it, specifically the album-opening This is It and Burning Photographs, which features one of those lyrics I’ve always wondered about – “Everybody is so make believe, it’s true”. Does this just mean “it’s true that everybody is so make believe” (probably), or “are they so make believe that they have become true”? A question to ponder . . . At the end of the day, the good songs on Rock N Roll don’t come close to outweighing the mediocre ones, which means I don’t play this CD as much as Adams’ other material.