One of the three (yes three!) 2003 releases by prolific North Carolinian Ryan Adams is an outstanding testament to the rock 'n' roll life - hence the album's title. Adams has turned to New York City as his muse, but the core elements of the release are universal. We’ve got the sex, the drugs, and the rock 'n' roll. But amid the base themes that bind the record, there is pronounced angst, longing, ennui, even pathos, set against a deeply satisfying musical backdrop that leaves one longing to relive this euphoric ride again and again.
Rock N Roll gets off to a very strong start with “This Is It.” Adams croons:
Let me sing a song for you that alters your belief
...in a manner that recalls the glory days of the Replacements, and we’re buying into the earnestness of his gritty delivery right from the start. The second song, “Shallow,” plays like it was ripped from the Noel Gallagher songbook. It’s all there: the instantly satisfying guitar riff, engaging lyrics, and the anthem-like chorus. The raw “1974” finds Adams looking back to the day he was born, a day where it was
raining like a nose bleed.
“Wish You Were Here” is another highlight of the release. Despite the seemingly lazy lyric work
It’s totally fucked. I’m totally fucked. I wish you were here
| ...one wonders how someone who’s writing such great songs can’t help but feel cool.|
...the song works because of the sincerity of the singing. The languor, the longing, is potent. “So Alive,” the current single, is both hopeful and wistful. The angst of the moment comes through in the vocals, which range from Adams’ typical baritone to a gripping falsetto. “Burning Photographs” highlights a doomed relationship, finding a scorned lover contemplating suicide but gaining relief in burning photographs and reflecting on the futility of the failure:
I used to be sad, now I’m just bored with you.
Another standout track, “Note to Self: Don’t Die” sounds like it was penned by the late Kurt Cobain, though the lyrics are certainly the antithesis of a Cobain song. The title track, “Rock N Roll,” has Adams singing to a melancholy piano track:
Everybody’s cool playing rock n roll. I don’t feel cool feel cool at all
...and one wonders how someone who’s writing such great songs can’t help but feel cool. The song ends with a disheartened female voice on a phone line, eerily repeating
I miss my best friend
...through the fadeout. Rock N Roll concludes with “The Drugs Are Not Working,” a crazed trip of a song that involves a west coast hooker. The song is one of the more popish efforts on the release, but evolves into something much deeper with the haunting and prophetic ending.
Adams, who was mainly known in alt-country circles until the release of the song “New York, New York” (which became an anthem for the indomitable spirit of the city after 9/11 terrorist attack), has since blossomed into a gifted performer. Beyond the vocals, the former Whiskeytown front man plays most of the instruments (save the drums) on the release. Despite this fact, there is little monotony in the powerful collection of songs. The seemingly-inexhaustible Adams has six solo releases to his name in as many years: Heartbreaker, Gold, Demolition, Rock N Roll, Love is Hell Parts 1 & 2. Regardless, Rock N Roll easily rates as one of the top five releases of 2003.