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‘Wednesdays,’ Ryan Adams’ New Album Reviewed

Wednesdays

art cover of  Wednesdays

 

While listening to an interview of famous rock & roll photographer Bob Gruen, I heard him talk about his friend Ike Turner. Gruen had become very close to Ike and Tina and was following them on tour, and if he admitted it was not an ordinary marriage, he said he had never witnessed any violence: ‘He was a pretty good guy until the drugs took over,’ Gruen said. I had never heard anyone talk about Ike Turner as a ‘good guy,’ since he is only remembered as the domestic abuser, the wife beater. Despite his volatile relationship with Tina, Ike Turner was ranked among the 100 Greatest Guitarists by Rolling Stone and he is still regarded as a ‘great innovator,’ but today Turner would be canceled like so many rock & roll figures of the past. Domestic violence is terrible – do I even need to say that? – but it was surprising to hear someone from the ‘70s calling one of the great villains of rock & roll a ‘good guy.’

As everyone knows, Ryan Adams’ career was put on hold last year after a devastating article published by the New York Times accusing him of emotional and verbal abuse toward several women, including his ex-wife Mandy Moore. The three albums he was supposed to release were all canceled, and he basically disappeared from the music scene for more than a year. However, if you have kept an eye on him, you probably know there was some recent activity on his website and social media, and an album was finally released on Friday. The release of Taylor Swift’s new album ‘Evermore’ on the same day could have been a complete coincidence.., or not, but the days of him covering Swift seem long gone anyway. I am almost certain that the album will be ignored by most media, which is another good reason to mention it here.

‘Wednesdays’ is a back-to-simplicity, a bare-it-all work showcasing the most emotive and sensible Ryan Adams you have ever encountered. He becomes someone who would like to rewrite the past and change history: ‘If I could see your face/Maybe it could erase/The lies with the truth,’ he sings in the first song of the album, ‘I’m Sorry and I Love You,’ with a Neil Young falsetto, and lush instrumentation of strings and big keys. He remembers happier times, deeply hurt: ‘I remember you/Before you hated me/Before you traded me/For someone new.’

The album is not a rocker like the Petty-Springsteen-esque ‘Prisoner,’ his previous album, instead, a romantic Americana infiltrates ‘Wednesdays,’ while the songs are coated with profound emotion and a lo-fi Ryan Adams singing on repeat ‘I’m sorry’. It’s only the first track, and he is already apologizing to someone – but probably not to his detractors since the songs were written before the NY Times scandal.

The art cover, a painting of trains in a railroad station (France’s Gare du Nord) by impressionistic painter Siebe Johannes, is reminiscent of Claude Monet’s own work and gives the tone. There are many trains in the lyrics, and train stations work as metaphors for separations, departures, and transitions. Not that Ryan Adams uses a lot of metaphors, he is a storyteller, and, like impressionistic paintings, the stories are built with little touches, name-checking cities and states, Birmingham, Pennsylvania, Carolina, Alabama, describing many empty houses… physical places that now only exist in the meandrous trails of his memories. Meanwhile, the dominant colors are grey, black, and very blue.

The quiet and emotional ‘Who Is Going To Love Me Now, If Not You,’ with its pretty and inventive fingerpicking guitar motifs, is a very melancholic heartbreaking ballad, stripped down to swirls of strings, and reverb chords, while Ryan Adams has rarely sounded this vulnerable. The countryside cinematic effect of the moving ‘When You Cross Over’ brings some powerful emotions, and just like ‘Mamma,’ the song seems to be about death, the death of his brother Chris Adams, who died the day the Prisoner tour ended in 2017 after a long a painful disease. The uncomfortable song slowly soars like a sunrise on a Carolina field aroused by a harmonica, while the discreet female back-up vocals of ‘Mamma’ – this sounds like Emmylou Harris? – brings a soothing and warm honesty.

The beautiful melody, the pretty acoustic guitar, and the gravitas of the sparse keys of ‘Poison & Pain’ immediately appeared like a standout to me, shining like a little pearl and almost sounding like an early Simon & Garfunkel tune. And it’s not a stretch, there could even be some echoes of Simon’s style in the acoustic guitar of the titled track ‘Wednesdays’ with its long and heartbreaking narrative of the dissolution of a marriage, a relationship…  ‘Oh, woman, your silence brought me on my knees/Where I needed to be’ has to be the humblest line of the album. The instrumentation is as subtle as mood evocations, often stripped to its bare minimum, while the songs are carried by Adams’ raw vocals.

The album comes alive with the buoyant up-tempo ‘Birmingham’ and its full vibrating organ (Benmont Tench?), a rare moment where vulnerability leaves room for a renewed confidence. This is still followed by plenty of other soul-baring and simply beautiful moments, like the emotional ‘And where you lay your head/Is anybody’s guess these days/ Our love is a maze/Only one of us was meant to escape’ of ‘So Anyways,’ or the ‘70s feel of ‘Why did you want to throw it all away/Why did you let it go’ in ‘Lost in Time.’ From a Dylan-esque railroad track harmonica to slide guitar and a strong Neil Young vibe, Ryan Adams sounds as authentic as ever.

The last track of the album, ‘Dreaming you Backwards’, is pure Ryan Adams, switching to the electric guitar, leaving us a bit abruptly but on a higher and louder note, still full of regrets, ‘Once in a while/I catch myself dreaming/Dreaming you backwards/Here with me.’

Overall, the album seems crowded with confessional songs, and this was probably done on purpose whereas these same songs may have originally been split over the three albums he was about to release last year – at least ‘I’m sorry and I love You’ and ‘Dreaming You Backwards’ were supposed to be on ‘Big Colors.’ ‘Wednesdays’ is obviously not a ‘fun’ album, it’s Ryan Adams’ sad album for an impossible return if you believe that cancel culture is a thing. Breakup songs, intimate songs, overly honest songs, his lyrics are bleeding all over the tracks, making amends, trying to put together the broken parts of his life and soul.

But will people believe him and give him a chance? Will the visceral rawness of ‘Wednesdays’ be even credible? Everything will depend on how someone feels about Ryan Adams. For his fans, ‘Wednesdays’ will look like a very personal and genuine album written with a lot of heart, for others, this will sound like pure hypocrisy. The stripped-down keys, the quietly plucked strings, and the simplicity of some songs (‘Walk in the Dark’) will resonate like a sincere man’s layers of pain, others will even praise their healing power, whereas his detractors will interpret every song like the desperate attempts of a bad boy putting on a sad-puppy-mask as a pretext for asking for forgiveness. It’s not a question of talent or music, Adams’ career has become so intertwined with last year’s sexual allegations in the mind of some people that their righteousness will prevent them to engage with such art. Too bad for them, it’s a beautiful album. Thanks to this very personal collection of songs, Ryan Adams draws healing paths on the map of his soul, traveling through his memories of love and loss and it’s up to us to accept the journey.

20 Comments

  1. Trixie on December 14, 2020 at 2:01 am

    Thank you for the article. It is appreciated. The cancel culture is in some ways a disgrace when other music critics use every available excuse to castigate Ryan Adams and look the other way for other bad boys of rock because it was another time and not their era or because they sold more albums (imo). If Michael Jackson’s travails can be ignored, then why not Ryan Adams? Clearly there were no laws broken by him or charges would have been filed by now. Something to ponder.

    • Jason M Fylan on December 16, 2020 at 10:20 am

      Bravo. Well said, my friend.

    • Chris on January 10, 2021 at 3:05 am

      Well said. It’s very telling that darlings like Bowie (who I also love FWIW) go unscathed despite being guilty of often terrible things because he represents something in this era that apparently should never be messed with. Whatever happened with Adams he is simply one of hundreds of rock stars who behaved inappropriately at times in his life and he isn’t even close to the top end of the list. It’s sad that human error is no longer tolerable in our culture of social media-based outrage.

  2. Elaine Shute on December 14, 2020 at 8:02 am

    Thanks for an objective review – of the album, and not Ryan’s personal life. Sad to say, it’s a rarity in the current climate.

  3. Joe on December 14, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    Trust in the art, not the artist.

  4. R Hooper on December 14, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you for such a fair review. This type of journalism is almost extinct. Hopefully you don’t get cancelled for it.

  5. Todd Wicks on December 14, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Nice review, thanks for being one of the few sites to share your impressions.

  6. Sean Hourihan on December 14, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for the review – for me you have to separate the art from the artist and this is a good album that deserves to be listened to on its own objective merit. Thanks

    • Dana C Clinton on January 1, 2021 at 10:40 pm

      Who cares about silly cancel culture sjw’s everybody man or woman is guilty of treating their signifigant others like crap at one.moment or the other . Its called being human look at the divorce rate is it better to be a cheater or just with someone for the money pets start going after all the golddigging women out there or are theyre just too many of them too count . Why does it always have to be about.men being dirtbats when women get a pass with cheating hitting and golddigging . Stop judging sjws and throwing stones at other people look at yourselves for once because nobody is perfect . Ryan adams is a great musician and the rest of his life is pretty much his business . Let god judge him.not these whiny snowflakes with no.lives and too much time on their hands . Most of you dont have any talent anyways and dont matter so you pick apart the personal lives of people who do .

      • Thomas Brand on January 6, 2021 at 6:53 pm

        Yes, my sentiments exactly! With the power of social media there are so many people that use the platform to condemn people because almost everyone can be reached now via social media. It is a shame that with so much good that could come from everyone being connected this way and people choose to hate instead. It is a perfect example of how far the human race has to go.

  7. Greg on December 14, 2020 at 10:56 pm

    Ryan Adams has been a “go to” for me for the better part of 20 years. His ability to write a song is nothing short of a gift. I have struggled with how and whether I should attempt to separate the man from the music. Ryan may have his demons, and he may not even be a good person, I’m in no place to know. But his music moves me, and I think this is among his best work. I hope he can make peace with himself and others in his life.

  8. Simon Peake on December 15, 2020 at 11:31 am

    I am a Ryan fan. I am not wholly convinced with his “this is my confession” album. It would be too easy for a singer-songwriter who specialises in that kind of song (his 29 album for example) to make plaintive songs that make him sound sorry. Is it honest, is this how he really feels? – but more to the point, does it matter? Not every song needs to be self-confessional and written from the heart to be a great song. There are plenty of great songs that use characters and stories to tell wider truths.

    I am pretty sure that Ryan is a douchebag as a human being. But I am wondering does that matter? You can clearly be a great songwriter and artist whilst being an awful person (there are so many examples). Do you have to like the person to like the music? I don’t think so. Having said all that I think this album is a bit too one-note and sad, its pleasant but soon gets boring. And starting it with a song called I’m Sorry is just too damn obvious to be great, We have heard all this before on 29. I will be looking forward to the next two of the trilogy that will hopefully follow soon.

  9. Thomas on December 19, 2020 at 12:49 am

    I don’t know. I love the sound of this record — it sounds like Ryan in the way the eponymous album and *Prisoner* never did. And I’ve liked Ryan’s albums since Whiskeytown. The melodies here are wonderful. But the lyrics, not so much. And I absolutely disagree that this confessional; it’s self-pitiful (as it were). He’s very sad and he wishes things were different — and he seems to think that if he could only get Mandy to look into his eyes and let him explain, she would understand. That’s not confessing and asking for forgiveness. I had hoped Ryan would grow from the last couple years, and maybe he has, but you can’t tell that from this record.

  10. Kevin Pellow on December 19, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    History is littered with people who have allegedly been involved in unlawful and inappropriate behaviour, Michael Jackson, R Kelly, Elvis, Marvin Gaye and Jerry Lee Lewis. Celebrity’s from sport, film and TV still lead normal lives. Ryan Adams has not been convicted of anything, until that day he deserves to be heard as an artist and the hypocritical press ignored.

  11. Dan on December 25, 2020 at 11:58 am

    Is the behavior he is accused of some sort of mental illness? If he tried to hurt himself ,would he have been vilified or supported? If he had written truthfully and with remorse about how he hurt and hurt others through his selfish behavior would he have been praised for that truthfulness? We all make mistakes. Act poorly. Try to make corrections. The act of confession should be met with compassion. He can not heal those he truly hurt but he can try to right his own ship and continue to sail.

  12. Human on December 30, 2020 at 11:52 pm

    Sail on, Ryan…keep being you.

  13. Brian Stillger on January 13, 2021 at 10:34 pm

    man i’m glad i’m old and grew up when rock stars where rock stars and weren’t chased around being slapped with a bunch of kids political correctness stick. Life is so much easier looking at others flaws. He was nasty to someone and said mean things, grow up that’s the world. Makes me wander how Zeppelin, Crosby and the stones would of fair these days.

  14. Targa on March 25, 2021 at 2:07 pm

    I don’t give a crap that Ryan was a shitty boyfriend and I can’t stand stand this culture that is all up in their feels about it. Today’s current “musical” environment is overflowing with ACTUAL criminals- drug dealers, rapists, repeat violent offenders, etc…. and I’m supposed to care that Ryan said some mean and manipulative things to his ex-wife and girlfriends?! Nope. Not at all. Wednesdays is not my favorite, but there’s a few tracks that speak to me. Ryan should keep making music and keep that middle finger in the air to all this cancel culture politically correct vile matter that’s ruining the nation.

  15. Pat Rabjohn on April 15, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Four months in and the album gets better and better. Love it.

  16. Philip Gluckman on April 28, 2021 at 9:25 pm

    This is a really good review. Nails it. This album gets better every time I listen. It didn’t get me at first but then quickly it – on about the 3rd listen. -it did and for me this is how it always is with a truly great piece of work that never gets boring

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