In late 2013 I saw two very different films in the theaters – The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller. Wolf was an assault on the senses – every form of depravity in all its glory (and pitfalls) in my face for 2 hours plus. I loved every second (as did the critics). Walter Mitty was the follow-up film for me, and I also loved every second for very different reasons. Critics seemed divided, but I think is because there isn’t any sarcasm to be found. It’s just a feel good movie that leaves you feeling inspired at the end. Wolf doesn’t make my top 10 films of all time, while Mitty is entrenched in the 2nd spot (The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou will never budge from #1). Swedish artist José González was tasked with composing music for the film – star Ben Stiller had been a fan of his music and specifically requested his input. Stay Alive was the single from the soundtrack and was a collaboration between González, Ryan Adams, and Teddy Shapiro. I have had it on constant repeat ever since it was released. Plaintive vocals, lyrics that convey doubt & hopefulness – it is imbued with a sense of the Walter Mitty character that Ben Stiller brought to life so wonderfully. The orchestration is lush while the music is a perfectly constructed indie pop song. Lyrically, it is simply perfect. “Sometimes there’s things a man cannot know / Gears won’t turn and the leaves won’t grow”…We’ll do whatever just to stay alive / Well the way I feel is the way I write / It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies / There is a truth and it’s on our side”.
If anything, you can’t fault Ryan Adams for lacking pure enthusiasm when it comes to his recording career. He has attacked disparate genres with gusto, though his later records have mostly settled into a pop rock alt county feel (not counting his metal side project, Orion). His recent records aren’t bad by any means, they just seem to lack that certain “it” factor. Perhaps a bit workmanlike, perhaps a little too serious. It’s been 3 1/2 years since the release of 2011’s Ashes & Fire which is absolute eternity in the world of Ryan Adams. Here we are with a new single and exclusive b-side, tasters for the upcoming self titled album. How do the tunes stack up?
Gimme Something Good is a slice of John Mellencamp inspired Rock ‘n’ Roll. For the cool kids at home reading this, you can think of it as Bruce Springsteen inspired Rock ‘n’ Roll. The track has a roots rock based vibe, building into a chorus that will get lodged in your head in no time at all. Honestly, the chorus was slightly underwhelming the 1st time I heard it, but I can’t deny that I’ve been singing the tune since the 1st time I heard it. This a good sign for the full length record. For Ryan Adams fans, think back to the 3 albums he released in 2005 (29, Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights) – that’s the feel of this single. Grateful Dead by way of Gram Parsons by way of John Mellencamp. Aching For More is more acoustic based and tones down the Rock ‘n ‘Roll vibe in favor of an alt-country feel. It is a nice counterpart to the A side. All in all, this new single has me looking forward to a new Ryan Adams album in a way that I haven’t felt since the mid 00’s.
Verdict: Something Great
For Fans of: Whiskeytown, Gram Parsons, The Byrds, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen
Following the dissolution of Alt-Country greats Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams immediately made an impact with his 1st two solo records, Heartbreaker and Gold. Those albums continued the roots based vibe, while adding a slightly more mainstream flavor that the Whiskeytown records had only hinted at. The accolades and good vibes were put to the side for the most part when it came to the Ryan Adams records of 2003 and 2004. Rock N Roll was Ryan Adams as The Strokes while Love Is Hell combined two EP’s that seemed to be a nod towards UK indie melancholy. Most of it didn’t really work for me, to be honest, but the cover of Wonderwall (originally by Oasis) is one of the best cover songs I’ve ever heard. The classic Britpop tune with nonsensical lyrics is here transformed into an acoustic lament. Liam Gallagher’s sneer is replaced by Ryan Adams’ country-ish twang. The song was released as a single and hit #27 in the UK. It even inspired Oasis to adopt the Ryan Adams version in concert for a short time. This is how cover versions should be done.