Bad attitude holds Adams back

Dave Rossetti

Therefore the foisting of the remarkably pedestrian Rock N Roll — the 29-year-old’s fourth solo album — upon the record-buying public shouldn’t flabbergast his fans — just chalk it up to Ryan Adams being Ryan Adams.

The biggest knock on Rock N Roll is that it sounds as if craftsmanship was sacrificed to meet the deadline of Adams’ record company superiors, and that’s exactly what happened. After his Lost Highway bosses initially rejected Love Is Hell (Part 1 oddly released in tandem with Rock N Roll), Adams was forced to scramble to meet his label’s demands for a 2003 release.

Meet it he did, but, perhaps as a way to take a jab at his label, gave them this album of all too similar sounding garage rockers that sheds little light as to why critics have heaped praise and forecast so much success for the irreverent Adams.

Subtlety clearly nowhere near Adams’ vocabulary, the transposition of the title of The Strokes’ “Is This It” for Rock N Roll’s opener “This Is It” draws even more attention to the track’s gleaning of Strokes-like guitar riffs. Adams then proceeds to slur his way through “Shallow” and gratingly screams above the power-chord riffing of “1974,” the first track of Rock N Roll on which Adams truly lives up to his highly-touted songwriter billing (“She isn’t crazy/She’s just not impressed/She stabs me with her eyes/Dirty knives hidden in her dress”). Though impressive lyrically, Adams’ obnoxious delivery makes “1974” difficult to digest.

The next track — the very un-Floydian “Wish You Were Here” — stands as the album’s creative standout. Adams actually breathes genuine sweetness into lyrics so crude that they clearly shouldn’t be anywhere near a love song and delivers a true diamond in Rock N Roll’s rough.

For the rest of the CD, Adams struggles to again attain the “Wish You Were Here” apex. He bounces between balancing his sound-alike tendencies on “So Alive,” this time reminiscent of Bono fronting U2, and moments of genuine beauty, as on Rock N Roll’s most alt-country derived tune “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home.”

The rest of Rock N Roll smacks of Adams wrestling with the decision of whether he should give his best or hurriedly appease his record label by filling out the CD with merely adequate cuts. He does rise above the din of mediocrity with the title track, a perfectly ironic piano ballad, but does little beside that to push this album near the territory of his previous work.

Adams has his moments, but this disc runs over with undistinguished rockers. Even though Rock N Roll’s cover art designer created an “X” out of the elongated “R” in Adams’ first name, this cruel joke that has only Adams laughing offers no cure for the string of big-name flops that have dogged music fans throughout 2003.

Grade: CD