I hate Ryan Adams. He's young, cool and super-talented, plus he gets to hang out with Melissa Auf der Maur and Parker Posey while effortlessly punching out entire albums of near-perfect alt-country. Worse, he's now a rock 'n' roll wolf in No Depression clothing. He can do anything. Hell, in the last four years, he's written, what, 100 songs? Bastard!
Of course, Adams is more a chameleon than a full-fledged artist in the tradition of Cohen, Dylan, Reed, Springsteen and Waits. But then again, he's not merely a slavish imitator. Indeed, listening to Rock N Roll, I get the sense that, like Elvis Costello, Adams is a record collector par excellence, whose songwriting skills suffer from a fetish for paying homage to the greats that came before him. Which, in my book, still makes him superior to the Strokes, who pay homage to nothing and just plain steal.
It's funny, too, because "This Is It" is a big middle finger in the face of the Strokes' debut, Is This It?, with a pointed refrain targeting said band's ongoing retrocities: "Don't waste my time/This is it/This is really happening," and the line, "Let me sing a song for you that alters your beliefs." Adams then goes on to wrench titles away from wildly popular songs ("Wish You Were Here," "So Alive") and fashion entire new alt-rock songs out of them--with great success. He also flashes his secret Nirvana-philic side by punctuating Rock N Roll with doses of neo-grunge thunder. "Note to Self: Don't Die" is particularly powerful, with its detonating main riff and screams of "Don't change, just lie!"
In many ways, this is Adams' little bible of rock styles: "1974" cribs from KISS; "So Alive" evokes U2 circa Boy; "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home" mimics Smiths-era Morrissey; "Do Miss America" cops a feel from the Replacements. That he is the sole guitarist on this album, and that he manages to achieve so many diverse sounds, suggests that this heartbreaker is turning into an ax-murderer.
Empty exercises in craft? Sure, some of it. But even Adams' throwaway lines and ideas are better than that neo-garage rock album you've been spinning in your cramped apartment. And yeah, a lot of this stuff is only rock 'n' roll, but I like it.