If Radiohead or Arcade Fire were to release an album entitled simply 11, the internet would be full of theories about the meaning of the title. Is it a cryptic message about the troubles in the Middle East? Or a damning critique of 11 years of New Labour in power?
With the man who bought his first real six-string and played it till his fingers bled though, it’s simply the case that this is his eleventh studio album, and the fact that his birthday falls in the eleventh month of the year. And therein lies the appeal of Bryan Adams – a simple, down to earth approach that guarantees what you see is what you get.
However, it also explains why there’s been a fair degree of critical opprobrium thrown at him over the years – that, and the notorious 16 week stay at number one with Everything I Do of course. Adams’ template of easy-listening, solid rock means that if you’re looking for surprises, you’re looking in the wrong place.
Relying on a tried and tested formula is no bad thing of course, but it means that there’s very little here for anyone who has yet to be convinced by the Canuck’s charms. It’s mid-paced, slightly plodding rock – with some quite shockingly banal lyrics at times. Yet if you’re an Adams fan, you’ll lap it up.
It all sounds very professional and polished, but in a way that robs it of any soul. Tracks like Tonight We Have The Stars, Somethin’ To Believe In and Broken Wings all have the requisite croaky vocals and anthemic radio-friendly choruses, but there’s nothing to move or touch you.
Then there’s those lyrics. Close your eyes, take a pin and run it down the track listing, picking one song at random. Then examine the lyrics, and you’re guaranteed to find cliche upon cliche – whether it be platitudes such as “tomorrow may be raining, but tonight we have the stars”, “when I was blind, you came and opened up my eyes” or even “the world is full of mysteries, full of magic and of wonder”.
There are some moments which work quite well – the acoustic introduction to Somethin’ To Believe In sounds quite refreshing, but as soon as the chorus crashes in, we’re back to the soft rock template so prevalent across the album. Walk On By meanwhile is the highlight of the album, a lovely, string-laden ballad recorded in Ireland – you can almost smell the Guinness, it’s so wistful.
Moments like that are few and far-between though. Each track features crashing drums, big guitar solos and so many proclamations of life-affirming love that you wonder why the album wasn’t released on February 14th. Mysterious Ways meanwhile has more than a passing nod to Elton John‘s Rocketman. There’s no alarms and no surprises, but then again, that’s not what Bryan Adams deals in.
If you find The Hoosiers a bit too edgy for your tastes, then 11 will sound perfect as it bursts out the car stereo speakers driving down the motorway. For everyone else though, this is probably best left to Bryan’s hardcore fan base.