Easy Tiger Label: Lost Highway
There hasn’t been anything easy about reviewing Ryan Adams albums these past few years. For starters, there’ve been so damn many, now nine in seven years, that simply coming up with fresh adjectives has been a daunting task. With only a couple exceptions, his unparalleled streak has produced very strong results. As such, giving repeated high marks to most every album in his catalog comes off as playing favorites. If the truth be known, of course, Ryan Adams is my favorite artist of the past decade, without a close second. There, now that all the pesky disclosures are on the table, let’s get on with Easy Tiger, shall we?
After the first couple listens I was ready to blindly dub this one a “bookend album”. The first four tracks, including the fabulous Gold-like “Two,” which touts a shared harmony vocal with Sheryl Crow, and the rugged “Halloweenhead,” probably in better company on Rock N’ Roll, lay the groundwork for a true masterpiece. After all, there was much hype about how Easy Tiger was supposed to be every bit the album Gold was, which is to say Top 10 of the decade on many a critic’s list. The final five tracks are equally as strong as the first four, especially “Pearls on a String,” one of the most sparsely beautiful songs he’s written since “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” and a no-brainer XM Café pickup called “Two Hearts.” It’s the middle four of Tiger’s 13 entries that require additional spins to really embrace. But once a somber yet elegant heartbreaker like “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” sinks in, it could fast become a favorite. It’s the piano part that might get missed the first time through, but eventually defines the song and gives it life.
Such is the case with “Off Broadway,” another early castoff in the middle of the album. “It hasn’t killed me yet, but give it time,” Adams whimpers without ever coming close to raising his voice. This is one of many self-loathing examples that demonstrate, while supposedly newly sober, the 32-year-old continues to draw from pain beyond his years. Listen to “I Taught Myself How to Grow Old” long enough and you’ll feel suicidal on your best day. “I taught myself how to grow ‘til I was crooked on the outside, my insides caved.” Not exactly the reflections of a guy reportedly tickled by a new-found love.
Oh well, at least he’s kicked the coke and seems to be better off, more focused, and not nearly as volatile on stage or off. If Easy Tiger is any indication of future potential, Ryan Adams is definitely back. Sure, there was reason to doubt his ability to rebound from an ill-advised detour like 29. But to be fair, it was his third release of 2005 (four if you count Cold Roses as a double), so what could we rightfully expect? While the Cardinals, especially Brad Pemberton, seem to have more and more influence on Adams’ songwriting and music, they continue to get less and less credit, being snubbed from the album’s title and cover for the second straight time. Such is the ongoing soap opera that is the “fabulous one,” as Elton John referred to him in 2002 during an episode of CMT’s “Crossroads”.