Listening to this, it’s hard to believe that Ryan Adams is only 26 years old. It’s not just the fact that this, including his now defunct band Whiskeytown, is his fifth album in as many years. It’s the fact that three songs into Gold, you could swear that this is one of those great lost albums from the ’70s: the kind you read about in magazines but never quite get round to buying.
It’s like a compilation album of the best songs never recorded by The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young and sung by a man whose voice hints at dark demons bubbling under the surface. And then you realise that this mammoth, 70 minute album is recorded by somebody who wasn’t even born until 1974. It comes as quite a shock.
Ryan Adams’ debut solo album, Heartbreaker, was released last year and immediately lumped into the horrible ‘new country’ bracket. That was doing him a major disservice however. Sure, it was full of yearning, lonely songs that probably sounded better while knocking back whiskey and smoking vast amounts of cigarettes. However, like Eileen Rose, Adams brought an unidentifiable quality to his lovelorn songs that proved he was more than just a Gram Parsons wannabe. With Gold he proves that Heartbreaker was no one off.
The album starts on one coast of America with the poignant New York, New York and finishes on the other coast with Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard, the kind of song that makes you almost wish you were sat alone in some piano bar somewhere. There’s a timeless quality to these songs, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is some cheesy ’70s retro Lenny Kravitz style album. Rather, Adams brings these songs bang up to date – the exhilarating Tina Toledo’s Street Walking Blues could easily be The Rolling Stones if they somehow rediscovered their vitality, and the epic, nine minute long Nobody Girl tips a heavy nod towards Neil Young.
These influences may surround the music, but at the centre of it all is the bruised, romantic presence of Adams. As in Heartbreaker, he’s recovering from a broken relationship, but you get the impression that he won’t learn. As he says in Sylvia Plath, a wistful plea for a new muse, “I gotta get me a Sylvia Plath” – obviously nobody told him that Plath ended up committing suicide, but maybe that’s for the best. Adams’ voice recalls prime-era Elton John (a recent champion of Adams, and thanked in the sleeve notes) on some tracks, and there’s even some pure Philadelphia-style soul on the standout track Touch Feel & Lose.
If you’ve never heard of Ryan Adams, then don’t confuse him with his near namesake Bryan. This is music played from the heart and the soul. Reports suggest that his next album, Pink Hearts is almost complete and ready for release. Quite what it will take to make this man a bona fide star is a mystery, but one thing’s for sure, time is on his side.