III/IV by Ryan Adams
Late last year, Ryan Adams dropped III/IV, his second release in 2010, which happens to be a double album and which seems to gather everything you either love or hate about him under one roof. III/IV demands a lot from listeners. It’s hard to listen to in one sitting. Though many of the songs are short, there are still 21 to wade through, and critics love to harp on Adams’s prolificacy. But when is a lot of music a bad thing (critics also said that Exile on Main Street shouldn’t have been a double album, and we all know how that turned out)?
III/IV slides slyly between musical styles, which at times can be jarring. The first five songs sound like the Platonic ideal that all of Adams previous songs have been pointing to. Unfortunately, that vibe is broken up by “Lonely and Blue,” a song that had to have been stolen from The Strokes. Later, the delightful sweetness of “Gracie” is packaged between two songs that out-punk punk music, “Numbers” and “Icebreaker.” Some might call the album inconsistent, but all three of those songs are excellent, so who cares? If you’re looking for cohesion, then maybe Adams isn’t your kind of artist.
The double album wallows, lyrically, in a wasteland of mismatched lovers, drug addled club girls, black holes, shadows, and insubstantial relationships. Adams has never been full of sunshine, but his angst gives way to some great lyrics, and if you want sunshine then go listen to Taylor Swift. Most important however, is that III/IV propels itself forward better than any rock record in recent memory. Adams is not (and has never been) looking to assuage critics, and it shows in the confident momentum of the songs. III/IV isn’t trying to be a great rock record—it just rocks.
To discuss where III/IV ranks in Adams’s discography would be beside the point. The songs were recorded in 2006 as part of the Easy Tiger sessions, so they don’t point to some grand evolution in Adams’s career. If you like rock music, then buy III/IV. It is a good record. And if you aren’t seeking something, some deeper meaning or quintessential-ality, if you can just be glad that a very good songwriter keeps giving us songs, then III/IV won’t seem quite so demanding.
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