"Easy Tiger," Ryan Adams
Still only 32 years old, Ryan Adams has already burned through a career's worth of different personas: critically acclaimed alt-country balladeer; '80s college-rock revivalist; Morrissey-styled mopester. He also almost burned himself out, a couple speedballs away from joining Gram Parsons and Sid Vicious at the great gig in the sky. But Adams is clean and sober now, and his new very slick, very tuneful "Easy Tiger" finds the singer-songwriter rising, well, Eagles-like from the ashes.
Like the music of the aforementioned band, "Easy Tiger" is loaded with distinctive melodies, detailed arrangements and plenty of hooks, a welcome change from Adams' recent often-meandering work. But it's also mighty tough to warm to. Opening track "Goodnight Rose" gets over on some ringing electric guitar work and a nice dose of shaggy optimism ("Who knows?/Maybe we'll win the whole shebang."), but the song, and most of the album, lacks anything that might separate it from the countless other stoop-shouldered country-rock songs that have already been written. The first single, "Two," is equally bland, as Adams and Sheryl Crow sing a duet on a set of lyrics that aren't quite moon/June bad ("It takes two where it used to take one"), but aren't much better.
More effective are the few tracks where Adams lets his natural wildness loose. When he yowls, "What the fuck's wrong with me?" on "Halloween Head" -- the album's lone rocker -- his willingness to be ridiculous and opaque comes as a much-needed shot of idiosyncrasy. Who the hell knows what a Halloween Head is? But I would rather try to figure that out than listen to Adams describe himself in greeting-card terms like "poor little rose/beaten by the rain," accompanied by hackneyed harmonicas, which is what happens on "Taught Myself How to Grow Old." It's not even that the song -- along with "Easy Tiger" -- sounds bad. Far from it. But like the Hallmark material it evokes, "Easy Tiger" seems destined to be experienced once and quickly forgotten.
Favorite track: "Halloween Head"
-- David Marchese