Nobody could accuse Ryan Adams of laziness. Although Gold was released two years ago, rumours of the next Adams project flew thick and fast ever since its release. As well as the ones that came to fruition (the album of demo versions, the hardcore punk band with Jesse Malin), there are several others that are yet to see the light of day (including, allegedly, a track-by-track remake of The Strokes‘ Is This It played entirely on mandolin!).
Even Rock N Roll has an intriguing back story. Love Is Hell, which Adams originally delivered to the record company as the “official” follow up to Gold, consisted of a series of raw blues songs, stripped down and downbeat. Too downbeat for the record company in fact, who promptly rejected the album with instructions to come back with some more “rock ‘n’ roll” songs. True to form, Adams did just that (incidentally, the first instalment of Love Is Hell is released simultaneously with Rock N Roll).
One of the main accusations levelled at Adams is that he’s overly derivative, and it’s true that he wears his influences heavily on his sleeve. These are different influences than those on Gold however. Whereas the ghosts of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and early Elton John hung heavily over his last album, the reference points here are more contemporary.
One glance at the track listing gives some clues – references to The Strokes (This Is It) and The Verve (The Drugs Not Working) abound aplenty. Musically too, Adams indulges his love of Oasis (Shallow, where the guitar riff to Cigarettes & Alcohol – itself nicked from T Rex – is lifted wholesale) and Morrissey (So Alive, where he does an uncanny vocal impersonation of the former Smiths frontman). The marvellously titled Note To Self Don’t Die (featuring Adams’ girlfriend, actress Parker Posey, on backing vocals) meanwhile could almost be Nirvana.
This is certainly a less diverse affair than its predecessor – whereas Gold seemed to effortlessly swing from one musical style to the next in a seamless manner, this is “heads down” garage rock all the way. Sometimes it works (This Is It is a gloriously exuberant opener while Anybody Wanna Take Me Home is genuinely catchy) and sometimes it’s a bit dull (Luminol and Burning Photographs both have “average” written all over them).
Rock N Roll may lack the sprawling ambition of Gold and somebody as prolific as Adams ought to exercise some quality control once in a while. Some may prefer him when he’s heartbroken and lovelorn, but they can investigate Love Is Hell Part 1. Otherwise, if you’re a fan of straightforward guitar rock and were disappointed by The Strokes’ last effort, this is a worthy alternative.