“I don’t care if artists are assholes.” I was listening to an episode of the Bret Easton Ellis podcast this morning and he and his guest were discussing Warren Zevon, the Los Angeles songwriter who died of mesothelioma in 2003. Zevon was a brilliant artist who also was a real jerk in life, especially after a few glasses of vodka. However, it was the ‘70s and Zevon’s legacy lives on. How things have changed… changed a lot.
Fallen rocker Ryan Adams has finally dropped “Chris,” the final installment of the trilogy which started with “Wednesdays” (released in 2020) and continued with “Big Colors” (released in 2021). “Chris” will be available on streaming platforms in a week, but fans can already download mp3s via Adams’s Paxam shop. A few people were complaining about the price ($25) but since it’s a 19-track album, you have to recognize that $1.3 per song (or less than $1 per minute) is a bargain. How much do we generally spend on a cup of coffee or on a beer at a show? In any case, people should not whine: one week is not a long time to wait for streaming an album that was initially supposed to be released in 2019 with the two other ones. For Adams, things fell apart in 2019, but he is doing everything he can to recover his career, releasing albums and booking shows, despite the current hostile climate
Despite some style variation from song to song, “Chris” is a rocker, but it’s also a long album that offers a lot to digest at the first take. With 18 songs plus a bonus, Ryan Adams had definitively a lot of songs in store. The overall sound of the album is also quite different from the melancholic “Wednesdays,” the saddest of all three, and the ‘80s-inspired “Big Colors.” Some people have said that “Chris” is the closest that Adams has been from his earlier work, but this is also the most confident he has been for a long time.
With its life-affirming chorus, the opener “Take it Back” has a big rocking allure and almost sounds like a Springsteen song – or insert the name of any big rock star of the ‘90s. The Springsteen vibe sort of continues throughout the album with the more pensive “Still a Cage,” or the rhythmic guitars of “Moving Target” – which has one of the best melodic hooks of the album – or even the optimism of “Letting the Light In.” At these moments, Adams definitively sounds undefeated. Layered guitars supply some strong rocking muscles to “Flicker in the Fade,” and “So Helpless” succeeds in the same manner, combining remarkable shortness with efficiency.
The album seems to alternate between full rockers and more melancholic tunes like the self-titled “Chris,” with a nervous guitar rattling behind raw vocals while strings and piano lines slowly flesh out the song. Surprisingly, the song doesn’t seem to be about his brother as the album cover art would have let us think first. Since Adams sings about a “friend” and laments about his death –“Wonder where you went/Will I ever see you again” – this has led people to think that the song is probably about the Cardinal’s bass player, Chris Feinstein, who passed away in 2009. However, the fact that he and Adams’s brother share the same first name transforms the track into a moving double tribute.
There’s certainly quite of sonic diversity among the 19 songs: beautifully layered guitar and piano keys shine during the melancholic “Crooked Shake” while emotive strings swell the arrangements of “Was I Wrong.” Ryan Adams’ vocals are at their most fragile during the delicate acoustic guitar of “I Got Lost,” whereas ‘80s reverb sound is fully alive during “About Time.” “Say What You Said” has the Ryan Adams heartbreak stamp all over its reverb guitars, and a harmonica is added in the mix of the upbeat “Lookout.” The explosive guitars of “Spinning Wheel” add an alt-country flavor, but the bonus track, “Don’t Follow,” sadly gives me some Bon Jovi vibes. However, this is one occasion for Adams to let himself go with rage and rock abandon in a blast of rock guitars.
If several tracks supposedly date from the “Prisoner” sessions, or sound “like “Prisoner” B-sides” (as some die-hard fans have said), the album is a mix of different vibes going back and forth between an acoustic feel serving Adams’s heartbreak tunes and his 2017 arena-ambition signature rockers. “Prisoner” had a theme, it was a breakup album, but “Chris” doesn’t seem to have one, it could well be his last gift to his late brother, but it sounds more like a more or less eclectic collection of songs, including some that could have been on “Big Colors,” and other ones that could be regarded as leftovers from previous sessions. In other words, Ryan Adams is not reinventing himself with this new album, but there’s no doubt he will get strong reactions from his loyal fans for the big hair rockers, the ‘80s power ballads, or the trademark heartaches.
After just one or two listens, it’s clear that “Chris” is not the work of a defeated man, some songs even resonate as triumphant, blasting a loud “I’m back” in the ears of anyone who is willing to listen. After these past rough years, this is reassuring to see that Ryan Adams’s craft is still strong. However, because of his official cancellation by all media, “Chris” will not make an impact deeper than the circles of what’s left of his fan base. The question is: would the album have made a significant impression in other circumstances?
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – October 1972 (Volume 4, Number 5)
We leap ahead almost a year
A flatout triumph from a major performer
New Wave pop bliss out
I WISH I HADN’T GONE
a time-capsule type of roster
Creem -America’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1971 (Volume 3, Number 6)
“Sure, we don’t pay much but then who else do ya know who’ll publish you?”
in the immortal words of Jason Isbell to me at Gov Ball a coupla years ago: “let’s do this…”
one of the great top tens of the 2020
old school Puerto Rican underground sounds
a masterful pop about loving a drug addict