i’ve been putting off… not reviewing, but voicing my opinion of Cardinology. i was waiting for receipt of the vinyl, but during the wait, i acquired the mp3’s. Also in that time, i read way too many reviews to be completely objective. The best treatment i came across was this one suggesting that somewhere there's a Ryan Adams Album Review Generator, pumping out cookie-cutter anecdotes with the same words said in different ways. He goes on to statistically dissect a multitude of published reviews, citing many of these generic standpoints. Bravo.
Here are some scattered thoughts and lyrical samples, but i'm left with many questions. Maybe a discussion could help me sort this out.
Around here, the general consensus has been substandard, and that's been echoed plenty. But the most surprising thing is that the people that like it... really like it.
Rolling Stone gave it a 4 out of 5 and said "it's one of the best things he's ever done," and that he "defines a genre here."
I asked myself how they could actually think that, and I came up with this: the first thing people do when convincing themselves they like something is forget about lyrics. i will say this can be an important part of the listening process at times, but not when reviewing –and reviews are what Rolling Stone does. Maybe Ryan is suffering from the same ailment. He says "the stuff we do communally is 10 times greater than the stuff I come up with."
So sure - sonically - Cardinology is pleasing, even really good (thanks Tom Schick), but Ryan has lost his previously razor sharp edge. i've mentioned how Easy Tiger was pretty disappointing as well. But one mediocre record (plus an EP) isn't enough to get me worried. With the onset of this one, however, i'm beginning to think that maybe The Cardinals have worn out their welcome. They obviously have a large influence on Ryan, and that has worked great in the past (2005), but i feel like their general direction has been skewed. People say it’s the sound of a band working well together, finding their groove, confident in their sound, blah, blah. This is just a veiled way to say it’s predictable.
He’s just as self-deprecating as ever before - he actually says “if I fall will you pity me?” But with sobriety comes self-awareness. It's like Ryan is completely cognizant to the fact that he's a sad-bastard and has come to terms with it. We do find out Ryan isn’t habitless - “The trees outside are still. I take a sleeping pill… and feel a little less pain.” Thphhphphphh (fart noise with thumb up).
The first two tracks, minus the initial 3 second guitar riff, are just boring. "Fit It" has absolutely nothing new to offer - we know you've been left and hurt, Ryan. "Magick" begins well enough with a ferocity reminiscent of something like "Shallow" and as spiteful as "What Sin". But then they blow it under in the chorus with what sounds like a song heard at a junior high dance on Lifetime – “let your body move, let your body sway, listen to the music play.”
"Let Us Down..." may have been a better fit on ET, but it's not bad. Unfortunately, "Crossed Out Name" sits on the top of the heap, beginning what you hope will be a rebound on Side B... not even close. "Natural Ghost" is basically easy listening. "Sink Ships" starts with an inviting acoustic lead, but wanders off-course.
And what kind of metaphors are these? “This position is not open now… the application forms got shredded, there was faulty wording in the documents.” Come on. Where's the guy that said "you ain't but a fire on my sad estate, burnin' my house to the ground" or "i felt the news through the floorboards. Like a long sufferin' moan. Like a wreck on the road. Like a joining of hands?"
Where’s the guy that said “the trains run like snakes through the Pentecostal pines?" Oh, that’s right… Jacksonville. But that was only 3 years ago. He’d been city-jaded for years by then. There's the ubiquitous, NYC reference in "Cobwebs" that becomes cliché mentioning 5th Ave… ooh, Ryan’s big time – what happened to Chelsea?
A breezy interlude recalling "Rosebud", "Evergreen" is a bit of a relief, but not enough to turn me around. For the first time, i've become completely disinterested in the middle of a Ryan Adams album.
As i said, i waited until i got the vinyl to do this. The collector’s package has completely new artwork by Leah Hayes, including a comic book/set of liner notes. In presenting the lyrics, she forms a frame-by-frame story with children's book-style drawings. This interestingly works well for this album. Although she's definitely talented, it couldn’t have been very hard to work the names of the songs into the page. Ryan broke the record for repeating the song titles on Cardinology (go ahead, count 'em). i’m just not so sure that’s a desirable feat.
Some more pathetic lines: “Keep the faith, keep moving to the music rolling in your mind.” & “Be your own best friend, have confidence and keep the faith.” Oh, and those aren’t from the same song.
i guess you can say that he’s maturing with this 'suicide hotline' advice, which is somewhat true, but his youthful defiance is what has defined much of Ryan up to ‘06. At some point he has to make another statement. It doesn’t have to be berating fans/critics, tapes and tapes of studio sessions, or speedballs for breakfast, but SOMETHING.
Bottom Line: The Cardinals let us down, but at least they let us down easy... whatever that means.
i know i've focused on the faults of the album, but there are pieces to enjoy. Just not enough. i don't have to express what i like about Ryan, i've done plenty of that, and hopefully i will get to again someday.
Crossed Out Name (live 9-30-2008 - Palace Theatre)