Ryan Adams is one of the most confounding recording artists working today. The highs he is able to hit are dizzying and the lows he’s decided to share with the public are quizzically abysmal. For every carefully structured verse or perfectly delivered lyric, there is one that is at least as head-scratchingly bad. Particularly troubling have been Adams’s experiments with becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star. While there have been some decent moments to pull out of the heap, his output away from the alt-country genre has been poor when compared with his work in Whiskeytown or his first two records with The Cardinals, Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. It’s unfair to Adams to say that he should only remain working in a single genre, but perhaps he should reconsider his position on releasing pretty much everything he records.
III/IV, a double album culled from the sessions that begat Easy Tiger, is a perfect case in point. The songs contained on the two-disc set aren’t necessarily awful, but they are bland and lacking any of the loose, country sound that made the first two Cardinals albums so compelling. The content here is more akin to the first half of 2008’s Cardinology, where the band abetted Adams’ return to Rock N Roll’s faux arena jams.
The songs on III/IV unspool one after the other, based on simple guitar and piano lines that never offend, but adhere strictly to Adams conception of “rock” music. There are few experiments and digression from form, leading the entire set to run together into a stolid mash of very regular songs. The lyrics (and the goofy free verse contained therein that have saved many of Adams’ songs) are indicative only of Adams trying his hand once again at being a genuine rock musician. That he has continued down this avenue continually shows that he might have some genuine interest in it. Until he learns to translate the raw, confessional edge of his music to his work in the genre, the results will always be as unsatisfying as III/IV.