Ryan Adams’ new single, “Do You Laugh When You Lie?” is another notch in the belt of releases he’s been fashioning for himself since he dropped Ryan Adams back in September. It’s probably the closest in feel to that album, compared to other material he’s been releasing in the interim, but they’ve all been valuable additions to his catalogue.
Jacksonville, released just a week after Ryan Adams, is an ode to the the Cardinals’ era of his career, with twangy guitars, clean amps cranked just loud enough, and melodies that’ll make your heart melt. It’s the same kind of loverboy smaltz that makes Easy Tiger such an unusual great album. It’s an album that wears its intentions on its sleeve, and that makes it deeply personal, in a way that can get uncomfortable at times. And not because the songs are bad. They’re anything but. Easy Tiger has some of the most emotive songs of Adams’ entire career within its dust jacket. It’s just so open that it might be too honest for some.
Jacksonville is a perfect mix of that same honesty, with the barroom sass of his Whiskeytown material. “Jacksonville” is just a country ballad with a bit of balls. I’d be shocked if the main guitar that kicks off the song isn’t a telecaster, and if the amps weren’t all Fenders. It sounds like it stepped right out of 1997, when alt-country was remolding classic country into something that could be digested by Clinton-era progressives. And considering how solid all of that stuff was, he could keep releasing singles in this vain for months or years, and I don’t think anyone would complain. “I Keep Running,” the B-side, is a delightful nod back to the aforementioned Cardinals’ stuff. It’s not country, but it’s not rock. It’s Americana filtered through Adams’ adopted California lilt. Whenever he writes songs like this, it’s hard not to think of the Pacific Ocean crashing in the shade of a SoCal boardwalk.
After Jacksonville, Adams put out the appropriately weird Halloween release, Vampires. It’s got four tracks on it, and “Vampires” sounds like a Replacements’ song bolstered by Adams’ best tool: a voice that can blend into any genre. The man has the best pipes I think I’ve ever heard. He can do so much with it, and it never sounds out of place, no matter what he tries. “Vampires” is just another example. It keeps things simple, with verses and choruses that don’t really change, but it’s just a fun punk send-off formatted like a pop song, so lyrics don’t matter as much as they maybe should. “Magic Flag” is when things get experimental, spooky, and weird. It’s a droning mess of synth, keys, and kick drums that manages to antagonize the listener in such a way that I’d be careful while listening to on a loop. But this is HALLOWEEN FOLKS! It’s supposed to be creepy. “Clown Asylum” keeps that theme going, with a haunting choir backing Adams as he impersonates the Crypt Keeper and delivers a rhapsody on the horrors of clownship. It’s weird shit, no doubt. But then “Suburbia” comes along and is easily one of the catchiest songs he’s released in the last four months. It’s repetitive like “Vampires,” but it’s got an edge to it, and there’s brokenness in Adams’ voice that lets the song get where it’s supposed to go. The release was already worth a few listens, but “Suburbia” kind of clinched it for me.
In an interview with Q on CBC, Adams said that he’s got enough material to keep releasing a three-track single every month for the next year, and if he’s going to keep putting out things that sound like his latest, Do You Laugh When You Lie?, it’ll be one of the best things about the new year. If this trend continues, and we don’t have to wait a year between new music from our favorite artists anymore, then that’s an undervalued bonus to the music industry’s depressing revolution.
There are so many negatives to it, that it seems futile to focus on the positives, but when Adams does his best Bono on “Do You Laugh When You Lie?” and accents it with guitars drenched in reverb, it’s a little easier to stomach the bad. Because he wouldn’t be able to put this stuff out if the business model was still the same.
This release feels like it could be from The Joshua Tree. I know it’s unfair to compare other artists to each other, and I probably do it too much, but I’ll stick to my guns on this one. Ryan Adams just released the best U2 song in over a decade. “By The Way,” the next song, sounds the most out of any of these recent singles like it might’ve been a late cut from Ryan Adams. It has a lot to do with the texture of the guitars, but it also has to do with the antagonism in the lyrics. When Adams starts to repeat that he’s “lost without a trace” towards the end of the song, it’s easy to link it to the isolation of tracks like “Kim” and “Stay With Me.” He caps it off with a bonus ballad titled “I’m In Love With You,” and he’s reaching for the moon with his voice on the track. You can hear him tiptoe the line of his vocal range, and it turns a song that doesn’t really seem that special at first into a must-listen.
All I’m saying is, if Ryan Adams is going to keep putting out material like this, the rest of the music industry can take a few months off. He’s been a force in the music world for almost two decades, but now it feels like he has the freedom to do whatever he wants, and if you’ve tracked down any of the bootlegs of his scuttled records from the mid-2000s, it’s easy to imagine that some of his best material is going to come out like this, and not just on full-length LPs. Some artists need room to breathe and go at their own pace. It doesn’t matter if that’s methodical and plodding, or furious and unchecked. The best pace for them to work at is the one they choose to embrace, and I’m excited that Ryan Adams has finally found his.