Ryan Adams Rock N Roll

rocknrollAs 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.

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Ryan Adams’ Gold

KC

Released just two weeks after the September 11th attacks, Gold became Ryan Adams’ best selling album due at least in part to the very first track on the album, New York, New York, an ode to lost love that just happens to feature the chorus “I’ll still love you though, New York”.  Obviously, this resulted is heavy radio airplay at the time.  Although I love the song, I don’t associate this album with September 11th because of it.  I do associate Gold with the the early 2000’s in general because quite a few of the songs seem written to appeal directly to slightly confused young men in their 20’s who love classic rock, with enough leftover to accommodate slightly confused young women in their 20’s who love classic rock.  And it’s this factor, plus the “accessible” production that supplanted the more gritty tones of Ryan Adams’ previous work, that made Gold such a hit.

Ryan Adams wears his influences on his sleeve here, none more so than the Rolling Stones, particularly on Tina’s Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues and The Rescue Blues, which both sound like they could have come at the end of Exile on Main Street.  Other clear parallels, as pointed out by Mark Deming in his All Music review, include Neil Young, Van Morrison and Elton John, but where Deming thinks that this confluence of tributes makes Gold emotionally hollow at its core, I think Adams’ inspiration rings true.  Nothing on this album sounds forced or out of place, and the overall effect is that of listening to a compilation of classic rock hits from the early seventies, which, if you really like that kind of music, is not a bad thing.

On a personal level (since that is what this site is supposed to be about after all), a couple of the minor songs on this album hold a lot of meaning for me.  I moved to Los Angeles at the end of August, 2001, traveling cross country with a friend on an “end of the college years” road trip, only to arrive in the city with no job, no place of my own to stay (thanks to some friends to whom I’ll always be indebted, I had an empty apartment in Hollywood to crash in) and no real desire to remain.  I lasted less than a month – I was sleeping on that Hollywood floor when I got the call about the towers being hit -before I packed up in the middle of the night and drove back to New Jersey.  On that drive home, I stopped in Vail for lunch one day and ended up getting hired as a lift operator for the winter, which meant that I was only actually in New Jersey for a little more than a month (long enough to see the still smoking ruins in lower Manhattan while driving my boss around town) before having to drive back west to Colorado on a new trip that would change my life forever.  During that month, I managed to pick up a copy of Gold and so I was accompanied on that solo drive back to Colorado by La Cienega Just Smiled and Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd.  I don’t think I have to get past the song titles for you to understand why those songs might have been important to me at that time.

So, listening to Gold now, I’m immediately taken back to that drive and those times, where nothing, personally or nationally, seemed certain and life was still a very open road.  I’m glad to have moved on from the fall of 2001 and I’m glad that I have Gold as a souvenir.

AC/DC’s Back in Black

I’m rolling thunder pouring rain
I’m coming on like a hurricane
My lightning’s flashing across the sky
You’re only young but you’re gonna die

-Hells Bells

AC/DC’s Back in Black is, alphabetically, the first album in my CD collection.  What a way to start, huh?

AC/DC is a divisive band – the haters really hate them and the lovers . . . well, do you know anyone who is a truly hard core AC/DC fan?  They’re a different breed.  Even within the AC/DC fan community, this particular album appears to mark a turning point.  It’s the first album the band produced after Bon Scott pulled a Hank Williams and it’s Brian Johnson’s first album with the band.  (As an aside, is there another person who came into an established band, mid career, and was an essential part of a massive album like Brian Johnson was here?)  Back in Black, much like Metallica’s album with a similar cover, also represents AC/DC’s biggest selling album and stands as the pinnacle of their mainstream success.  Like it or not, you wouldn’t have most of the rock and roll that you probably love from the 80’s without Back in Black.

Nothing about this album is subtle, starting with the all-time classic riffs in Hells BellsBack in Black, You Shook Me All Night Long and Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.  Then you come to the lyrics.  For instance:

Don’t you struggle
Don’t you fight
Don’t you worry cause it’s your turn tonight
Let me put my love into you babe
Let me put my love on the line
Let me put my love into you babe
Let me cut your cake with my knife

-Let Me Put My Love Into You

Wonderful.

And that’s my biggest problem with Back in Black.  Even allowing for a huge helping of “things were different back then”, I can’t get past the fact that AC/DC, and a lot of AC/DC fans, probably take these lyrics seriously.  (This will come up again, with a slightly different result, when I talk about Frank Zappa).  So even though the music is an all time great course in power rock, the lyrics are so over the top that they actually manage to detract from the album, which, given the scope of the production, is hard to do.  Still, everyone knows these songs, and for good reason – despite many imitators, there is nothing like Back in Black.

We’re just talking about the future
Forget about the past
It’ll always be with us
It’s never gonna die
Never gonna die
Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution
Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t gonna die
Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution
Rock ‘n’ roll is just rock ‘n’ roll

-Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution