Monday, 27 October 2008

Album Review: Ryan Adams 'Cardinology' released 27/10/08

Is it possible to pinpoint a moment when extraordinarily talented musicians make the irretrievably slippery descent into morbid mediocrity? Maybe it comes when they finally slip off the knife-edge of living the life of a rock star and into inevitably drug-fuelled song-writing paralysis – maybe the mainstream seems the only way to go once you’ve dallied with success on the periphery for so long. Dylan himself made the veering trajectory through the exhilarating unpredictability of the sixties into the gospel cud that he churned out with heartbreaking regularity by the eighties. His latter-day prophet, Ryan Adams, seems intent on following a similar path.

With Cardinology, you’d be hard pressed to catch even a faded glimpse of the twisted up, fragile beauty of 2004’s ‘Love Is Hell’, or the bold ache of 2001’s ‘Gold’. That Ryan Adams can churn out piffle is not news – his misguided attempt to release three albums in a single year in 2005 will have alerted even the most hardy of acolytes to his somewhat hit-and-miss approach to songwriting. Perhaps most upsetting with Cardinology is the worry that Adams intended this lazy transition to purporting meaningless puddles of MOR – and yet, equally, that is maybe Cardinology’s only redeeming feature.

Adams has transformed a fascination with mainstream modern rock that emerged with his undeniably magnificent transmogrification of Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’, into a watery emulation of stadium country-rock acts of boringly prolific output. The U2 comparison here is predicable and yet wholly warranted, especially with the aging warble of the vocal on rock-anthems like ‘Go Easy’ and ‘Magick’.

‘Stop’ is a shallow attempt to capture the deliciously sullen, sparse piano-balladry of ‘The Shadowlands’, but where the latter conjoured the frighteningly dark corners of the psyche of the protagonist, the former drifts into faux-grandiose string arrangements and unconvincing lyrics. ‘Memory Lane’ is twee in its reminiscent chatter of “simple times, hands entangled, fingers engaged,” and yet still manages to be less revolting than the pointless chugging of ‘Crossed Out Name’ or ‘Cobwebs’, which are repetitive enough to make Coldplay or Snow Patrol proud. ‘Let Us Down Easy’ dabbles in gospel, and I’m pretty sure ‘Fix It’ and ‘Born Again’ are actually the same song, mistakenly included twice.

If there was some saving grace, just one track that reminded of the man’s capabilities, a single ‘Hotel Cheslea Nights’ or a whisper of ‘Goodnight Hollywood Bvd’, would that be better? Cardinology might be bad, but it’s at least consistently mediocre: the rubbishy yelps of a man that wants to sell records and is following a well-worn blueprint to do so. One can only hope that this unremarkable, middling result was indeed Ryan Adams’s intention.

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