Ryan Adams: Gold

Ryan Adams
Gold
Universal

 

RYAN ADAMS NO longer sees his shot glass as half empty. The ex-Whiskeytown frontman has finally shed the pessimistically drunken enfant terrible rep he earned upon the release of 2000's Heartbreaker--an album that, in itself, marked a clear departure from the quixotic loser Adams embodied in Whiskeytown's standout record, Strangers Almanac. With Heartbreaker, Adams shifted effortlessly from urban minstrel to old-country balladeer and back again, threading a myriad of styles together with his bruised-angel vocals. The evolution of Adams's talent continues with Gold, bounding on with a jubilant tone that he has only hinted at on previous albums.

Adams's smirking swagger shines through everywhere on Gold, especially on the record's faux-Tommy Hilfiger front cover: Adams, shoulders cocked sideways, sways in front of an upside-down American flag. The album was released two weeks after the World Trade Center attacks: odd timing for such a statement. The lead track, "New York, New York" also seems a little eerie in light of recent events: If the song weren't a fond farewell to the city Adams calls home, it could have served as a rallying post-wake anthem.

But what's more notable than spooky coincidence is that Gold sounds about as alt-country on this album as the Stones' "Some Girls"--you hear a twang or two every now and again, but when it comes down to it, the record just plain rocks. Take "The Rescue Blues," a melodic jaunt replete with a "You Can't Always Get What You Want" choir, or "New York, New York"'s shimmering Hammond organ streaming like multicolored ribbons falling from the city's skyscrapers during a parade. Later, intimate moments skirt the edge of surreal: "Sylvia Plath" details a haunting imaginary dalliance with the suicidal poet.

If there's any flaw to the album, it's that Adams seems to believe all that glitters is worthy of Gold. Clocking in at more than 70 minutes, the album's vaguest song premises (as on "Nobody Girl") withstand nine-minute treatments. But as a true-blue American songwriter, Adams knows that too much is always better than too little, and far be it from me to complain about hearing his excesses at the prime of his career.

 
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