“It’s late July and the sky is so grey / Everyone’s in bed for a month in LA / The house is so quiet, it’s barely making a sound / My hands are shaking, my heart is beatin’ so loud“: this snapshot sourced from Ryan Adams‘ latest standout record “In It For the Pleasure” might just be ultimate living proof that the singer/songwriter has finally come to realise his definitive “soundtrack to a movie from 1984 that exists only in [his] soul“. A strict Ultracolor VCR motion picture, mind you. Bundled and contextualised as the North Carolina native’s eighteenth solo studio outing, the picturesque 12-track Big Colors station is for all intents and purposes Adams’ own shelved and obscure OST version of the show Moonlighting. Released on the heartland rocker’s very own PaxAm Recording label a mere six months after his surprise return on the scene with the bleak and dour Wednesdays, this project is reportedly billed the second in an ambitious trilogy of LPs unveiled over the course of twelve months.
This body of work is largely produced by Ryan at the helm with the support from previous collaborators Beatriz Artola and legendary Blue Note Records president Don Was. It reads as an early-to-mid 80s power pop score that clocks in at just 39 minutes of runtime, for what is the 46-year old shortest solo album to date. Notwithstanding the scantier playback experience offered here, this collection of tracks cruises by listeners like ducks to water, effortlessly translating into a renewed cohesive and layered auditory session. Not afraid, faltering, or too shy to borrow heavy-handedly from his adjacent “watercolor painting of neon blue smoke rising up off summer streets in the night“, on this thing Adams again succeeds at transcending space and time, dishing out a unified sunny season solstice affresco composed of its more dejected and understated traits.
The Big Colors’ tape was teased and anticipated by the surprise-release of the hypnotic, hammering, and introspective lead single “Do Not Disturb“, followed by the sweet free-form composition of the falsetto’ed title track in mid May. Both tasters clearly tapped into dreamlike sonic lighthouses, coasting on seas of chorus and reverb-effects—a formidably executed formula one first saw the seven-time Grammy nominee pitilessly adopt on his flawless 2014 eponymous studio album. Incidentally, both cuts double as the first two songs sequenced on the overall project, whose subsequent Smiths-onian helping “It’s So Quiet, It’s Loud” is one sure to appeal to listeners of all stripes, by way of its apex technicolor and cinematic flairs: “And the night drags on / We finish drinks sideways / Telephone rings, rattles once and stops / It hangs up while you’re dreaming / My eyes are open now / Outside it’s pouring / I daydream your voice / It echoes through the halls / In my mind, racing through the crowd / I hear your voice say mine“.
The 2019 relict “F**k the Rain” picks up both mood and steam at number four on the album’s tracklist, betraying the former Whiskeytown and Cardinals mastermind’s supreme and refined songwriting erudition, condensed into the definition of a modern radio-ripe alt rock tune. “Manchester“, another pre-hiatus broadcast media leak from three years ago, follows suit in the shape of warm synths and embracing string arrangements, fiercely exhibiting once again how pivotal and inestimable keyboards have come to be as part of the late 2010s Ryan Adams sound pantheon. The record’s side A pulls its curtains close with what might be the first real showstopper and jaw-dropper of the crop: “What Am I” is not only idyllic, earnest, and stoic folk storytelling (and a cut that could have easily sat on Wednesdays’ sequencing), but also sports one of the singers’ most crushing and shattering choruses in recent memory: “What am I? / What are we? / When we’re not you and me? / When it’s not happening / When we’re asleep at the movies / Canary in the coal mine / The poison is slow, nobody dies / I forgot to let go under the moon“.
The career and catalogue-retrospective auto-referencing is less self-indulgent than purposeful here. Cue the filmic inside-job that progresses on with the swaggerish razzmatazz of “Power“, a corky show of faux-badassery with loads and loads of guitars, sounding almost as if 2014’s austere “I Just Might” had one too many drinks and suddenly got told the way its blue jeans fit elevates the chassis of its musical silhouette. By winning contrast, “I Surrender” at number eight packs in more vibrancy, stickiness, and life-affirming ethos in just over two minutes and a half than most self-proclaimed ‘anthemic’ five-dollar cuts around today. Despite its evident semantic innuendo, the audiovisual soundtrack takes a bit of a figurative blow on “Showtime“, which for all its lush and lavish arrangements and sincere performance might have sounded better on 2017’s Prisoner album, falling short of matching the otherworldly transmissions of some of the strongest numbers on here.
The concluding trio of tunes reaffirms Ryan’s pursuit of “shamanic visions of the future when the destination is dream zone 3000“, by accurately illustrating a gnarly coda to whatever detective dramedy plot kept re-running in his mystical mind. “Operator’s on the phone, says I can’t be trusted / It’s how you left me alone, it was broke and now it’s busted / A little sunshine will do, but outside it’s disgusting / It’s barely making a sound, my heart is beatin’ so loud“: in complimentary fashion to this piece’s opening stanza, the 12-string guitar strummings of “In It For the Pleasure” coasting atop of such poetry ring as evergreen and timeless as ever. Meanwhile, this station’s swan song “Summer Rain“—soaked as it is in VCR throughput processing and water-dense compression—sums up this album’s abstract in the most striking and spiritual fashion possible. Similarly, the kooky and playful “Middle of the Line“, sandwiched in-between the latter two cuts at number eleven, provides this score’s right amount of respite and comic relief, all without compromising its throwback melodramatic knack.
Ryan was right: Big Colors is a zenith point dream time. An equinox leading to a portal that shepherds the lost like a lighthouse does for ships at sea. After brutally essaying decay and ethics on Wednesdays in the deeps of winter, this kaleidoscopic and densely chromatic multitrack unearths the boundless possibilities of the movie of our lives. It minutely focuses on aquatic framing. For a proper frame not only draws a third eye into a picture, but keeps it there longer, dissolving the liminal barrier between the subject and the outside of the shot. Provided the depth, expressionism, and total gesamtkunstwerk of Big Colors—in conjunction to its righteous honesty—our only hope as end credits roll is that the director commits to breaking the fourth wall once more in the future: “while I won’t be able to match this album for its depth and broad color forms in the future, this is the sound of my soul and a door to a place I’ll be returning to again”.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2021, PaxAm Recording