III/IV, the latest offering from the ever-prolific Ryan Adams and his phenomenal band The Cardinals, was actually released back in December only in mp3 or vinyl formats, and made available as a double-CD a short time later. I’ve just recently gotten around to listening to it, which is unusual for me, a pretty devoted fan, but I’ve been a little busy these days. As for whether I regret this slight delay, well… kinda.
Adams’ penchant for paying musical homage to his influences is evident here as always. I tend to prefer when his records hearken to the Grateful Dead (Cold Roses) or Hank Williams, Sr. (Jacksonville City Nights), and I most certainly did not get my way here. Much like earlier his solo records Rock and Roll and Demolition, III/IV doesn’t reach quite as far back, instead echoing Tears for Fears and even The Knack in the musical equivalent of the ’80s skinny jeans and high-tops at Urban Outfitters. The vast majority of the songs on III, and more than half on IV, blend together in a reverb-y tribute to music that was popular about six years before I got into popular music. (Which makes sense, considering Ryan Adams is six years my senior.)
Within the minority, though, a few gems appear: “Typecast” (IV) the made-for-college-radio duet with Norah Jones, and “Ultraviolet Light” (III), which opens with a riff straight out of Led Zeppelin’s similarly-titled album, IV, and doesn’t disappoint. And as always, Ryan Adams shines brightest when back in touch with the alt-country roots that put him on the map as the frontman for Whiskeytown. “The Crystal Skull” (III) and “Death and Rats” (IV) showcase that side of him enough to appease those of us who could do without the Ramones-influenced majority of both records.
Given my obvious bias in favor of Adams’ alt-country work, and general sense of underwhelm toward all things early-’80s, it may not be fair for me to pronounce III/IV as mostly “blah.” After all, it’s a Ryan Adams album, so the default setting is Not That Bad. However, I’m concerned that a perfect storm of culture-wide ’80s nostalgia, Adams’ tendency to produce new music about ten times faster than the average rocker, and his bizarrely mismatched marriage to pop waffle Mandy Moore, all contributed to this less-than-stellar release. Again, though: Ryan Adams record = always better than average. III/IV, though: just barely.
Grade on the Ryan Adams Scale: C+
Grade on the Rest of Music Curve: B+