Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ryan Adams: Rock N Roll

Rock N Roll.... loud, unfiltered, adored, maligned, epic.

But before I get into all that, you must know that Rock N Roll was not intended to be the follow-up record to Demolition (neither was Demolition Ryan's proposed record, but I digress). In 2002, Ryan began a transition, some might say a regression, toward a heavier sound. Full electric lineups turned up to 11. He formed yet another punk band, The Finger, with Jesse Malin and a few others under a pseudonymous shield. Ryan (Warren Peace) provided dirty guitar. They released 2 EP's - which I have - but will spare your ears the posting of them (check out the page for full artwork/credits).

Sensing the inevitable sound transformation, Ryan wanted to record one more (last?) down-tempo, sentimental album. Love Is Hell was recorded in New York in 2002 - more on this in the future - but was not accepted by Lost Highway. They reportedly complained that the collection was "too alternative," "incredibly depressing," and "not your best stuff." Again, the label wanted Ryan to recreate the success of Gold, most-likely telling him to create more of a rock and roll sound. Ryan took that and ran.

Straight back to the studio with a group of friends, Ryan recorded what would be a metaphorical slap-in-the-face to Lost Highway: A record spitefully entitled Rock N Roll. The set is blatant, forceful rock that is the furthest overlap of Ryan's therapeutic but never-serious side projects into his 'real' work.
"Rock N Roll is unadulterated--it's the way I play guitar live. It's the exact sound I always use when I make the demonstration recordings for my records. The other albums are concept records a little bit, but I wasn't trying to reference anything here." - Ryan Adams
Present in the studio during the two-week recordings were Smashing Pumpkins/Hole bassist Melissa Auf de Maur, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong - whom Ryan shockingly resembled during this time - and his then love interest Parker Posey.

R&R isn't shy in expressing it's contempt, both lyrically and musically. Powerful guitar riffs become instant classics in songs like 'Shallow,' 'Wish You Were Here,' 'So Alive,' and 'Do Miss America.' Most songs on the collection end in huge crescendos of drums, vocals and reverb. That is, except one. Keeping with the sarcasm theme, the title track is the only cut to not feature amped-up guitars. This depressingly slow ballad features only Ryan on piano and vocals:

"Everybody's cool playin' rock and roll.
Everybody's cool playin' rock and roll.
I don't feel cool, feel cool at all.
I don't feel cool, feel cool at all."

'Rock N Roll' concludes with a grainy voice mail from a terrified Courtney Love. The barely discernible audio may have helped to spurn the recent lash-out from the troubled songstress in which she accused Ryan of draining all of her daughter Frances Bean Cobain's trust fund. The money was allegedly used to fund studio costs, guitars, expensive dinners at Nobu, and plenty of speedballs. She claims that the costs added up to a cool $858,000 and goes on to completely bash the album itself, calling it "one of the worst recordings [she's] ever heard." Read the entire, ridiculous thing here.

Ryan's left-handed sarcasm shows through only in somewhat lackluster writing. Nearly every song concludes with repetitions of cliché rock phrasing - "just like magic" "wish you were here" "the drugs ain't working" "taking me higher!" This element is frighteningly similar to the problems I had with Cardinology, but on Rock N Roll, it all works to add up to an effective statement of defiance toward authority. And that's the ultimate goal of rock and roll, right?
"Well, I wasn't arrogant in the beginning; I was naive. I didn't know to not speak about my music like I totally believed in it."

Read the whole interview, conducted by Parker Posey.

Now for the good stuff: Bonus Tracks

Rock N Roll [UK/Japan Bonus Tracks] Nov, 2003

Funeral Marching
- posted here

So Alive [International Single CD1] Jan, 2004

Ah Life
Don't Even Know Her Name

So Alive [International Single CD2] Jan, 2004

I'm Coming Over

So Alive [International 7" Single] Jan, 2004


This Is It [Single] May 2004

Red Lights
Closer When She Goes
Twice As Bad As Love


  1. wow, thank you so much!
    I love Ryan Adams

  2. Add 'Liar' (superb!) plus the other versions of 'Drug's Not' and 'Anybody Wanna' and you have R&R 2.

    Actually, probably overall better than the original album...too much of it injokey, revengeful, pastiche(ish) and not a patch on the PinkHeart sessions.

    Now anyone got/heard the LiH New Orleans session stuff? Gotta be the dog's!!!

  3. lovely and delicious!!!!

  4. Sounds like Ryan is the consummate artist; at times brash, cocky, restrained, sarcastic, devastatingly sad and funny, and even, on occasion, happy. These posts are great fun, and a spectacular companion to a Ryan Adams library. I didn't know Rock N Roll was a specifically defiant statement.


  5. I love Mr. Adams earlier work. His Cardinal period is good but i'm looking forward to what comes next. Cool blog.

  6. Rock N Roll was the first Ryan Adams album I picked up, after seeing him perform "So Alive" on Letterman. Ever since listening to it the album, I've thought it has deserved better than the mixed reviews it got, from critics and fans. Thank you for your refreshing take, which has made me an automatic fan of your blog.