‘Wednesdays,’ Ryan Adams’ New Album Reviewed
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.