Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#22 Album Of 2010: III/IV - Ryan Adams & the Cardinals


Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
Pax Am Records.

SCQ Rating: 84%

I guess we can now rule out what RockNRoll might’ve sounded like had Ryan Adams been sober. That’s but the first of many quiet epiphanies that reconfirm the oft-questioned brilliance of Mr. Adams over the course of III/IV. Another satisfying surprise – for anyone who never had the chance to see them live – is that the faded-jean-and-cowboy-boot adorned Cardinals moonlight as a tight rock band.

As Ryan Adams and the Cardinals’ second double-record, III/IV reportedly follows up the creative force’s first – the dual discs-as-chapters of 2005’s Cold Roses. It’s a suspicious sequel that only Hollywood could rationalize; sure, the Cardinals weren’t credited on Easy Tiger, but introducing a sequel to Cold Roses here in 2010 only further marginalizes the Cardinals’ contributions to inbetween-y records like Jacksonville City Nights and Cardinology. Whatever, this is Ryan-Adams-logic and none of these semantics matter once the first few cuts of III/IV have buzzed through your speakers.

Good thing, too, because this debut release from Adams’ own Pax Am Records is more of a reboot than a sequel. The alt-country band has set aside their musings on mortality for upbeat rock songs about relationships at war. Also, in Adams’ sole notion of an overarching narrative: the battle to stay sober. Adams’ then-recent abstinence from the bad shit isn’t the only giveaway to III/IV’s archival status, as ‘Dear Candy’ is Easy Tiger’s ‘Two’, only rigid and with completely different lyrics. ‘Lovely and Blue’, which temporarily streamed in early 2007, also appears, but carbon-dating their lineage – as opposed to pointing out the B-side status in tracks like ‘Numbers’ or ‘Icebreaker’ – enables my super-fan compulsion to rewrite his discography, to understand how the best cuts from III/IV were sidelined in favour of Cardinology’s uneven anthems.

Many of these highlights appear on the first disc (III, then?), with the melodic lead and sharp rhythm of ‘Wasteland’ setting the tone for latter tunes to relax (‘Happy Birthday’, with its smirking honesty) or react (on the heavy riffs of ‘Kisses Start Wars’). On the merits of those two tracks, it’s worth noting something that will no doubt thrill that dude who still pollutes every message-board with questions about Adams’ age-old Is This It? cover-album: there’s a lot of quality Strokes influences happening here. Even when the second disc threatens to derail into stoner-metal madness, tracks like ‘Star Wars’, ‘P.S.’ and ‘My Favorite Song’ instill the Strokes’ casual swagger in a way that always came natural to Adams.

Quiet epiphanies, yes, they’re everywhere. Contrasting Cardinology’s most exhausted spare parts, let’s hope we see more of this invigorated Adams soon.

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