I fell for Ryan Adam's first solo record, Heartbreaker, in 2001. Its fragility, passion and melancholy aestheticism were a perfect match for my post-adolescent depressed narcissism. With no pretense of formal innovation or lyrical brilliance,
Which is what makes it so difficult to review his new snooze-fest Cardinology; aside from the addition of the Cardinals, the terrific backing band he's worked with on his past several albums, it's not notably different from Heartbreaker.
There are sparks of life here and there. “Evergreen” is a haunter built around a lovely guitar figure, slinking into your brain and stubbornly remaining there when the rest of Cardinology has been forgotten (i.e. five minutes after the album stops playing), and “Magick”, the sole tonal shift on the whole damned album, is a cheerful, likeably disposable arena-rocker that would have sounded more at home on the failed-but-fascinating Rock N Roll. (As Adams' career has gone further and further awry, his most critically reviled albums, experiments like the Love is Hell EP and the aforementioned Rock N Roll, have consistently been his most engaged and interesting.) But mostly the thing just lies there, dead in the water. Which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that
Pity, pity the poor Cardinals. They're the best backing band a guy could ask for -- tight enough to play loose, Band-like in their versatility, Dead-like in their ability to make long, noodling solos interesting and compelling. And here they are, locked in holy matrimony to this tired hack.
I understand why this music is popular. (
The music is so empty that it attains a kind of apocalyptic mood -- one imagines that in the end times, when pop is gone, rock is gone, punk and rap and jazz are gone, music this mind-numbingly dull, picturesque and automated will linger on, permanent as polystyrene, scoring the slow and endless fall of ash onto the dry, dissipated earth.
"The war is over,"