Easy Tiger – Ryan Adams
White guys with guitars need to work especially hard these days to get noticed. Ryan Adams has done a better job of it this decade than most. Those who haven’t heard much of his music may still be aware of his thin skin, his hyper-productivity, his appeal to celebrities which nearly matches the bottle’s appeal to him.
Adams seems to know this, too. On this new album, both his catchiest chorus (“Halloweenhead”) and his weightiest ballad (“I Taught Myself How To Grow Old”) touch on the topic. Mostly, though, he’s put the hype aside this time and concentrated on turning out one textbook example after another of concise, melodic songcraft.
There’s a little Neil Young in Adams’s acoustic riffs, and “Off Broadway” demonstrates that Adams can also catch Young’s little-boy falsetto. But while Young’s lyrics make you curious even when they say almost nothing, Adams is more likely to say something (on this disc, primarily obvious but heartfelt sentiments about love and mortality) and rely on his aching voice and skillful craft to get you interested. Perhaps another sensitive guy with a high-pitched voice, Todd Rundgren, is an equally good analogy, and if you like early Rundgren, Easy Tiger sounds a bit like what might have happened if Todd had gotten interested in pedal steel and mandolin rather than synthesizers.
Those '70s guys come to mind because Easy Tiger reminds us that today’s alt-country is yesterday’s mainstream rock. And while there’s no innovation here, almost all of Adams’s hooks in this batch will spin in your head given the proper push. Not many who’ve gotten famous for their misbehavior lately have done as much good.