Fret not, dear reader: you are not seeing double. Or perhaps are you indeed? One workhorse and singer/songwriter extraordinaire Ryan Adams really did just unveil another two-sided album to the public, a mere month removed from the windowed self-release of his raw brotherly tribute Chris, a double LP in its own right. Announced, promoted, and eventually unwrapped within the span of a few weeks—and hitting the exclusive digital shelves of his own PaxAm record imprint on 25th April, exactly a month to the day after the last instalment in his recent trilogy—Romeo & Juliet sticks its astonishing sonic landing just shy of eighty minutes of brand new material. In a similar dedicative vein to Chris’s familial worshipping ethos, this Shakespearian-titled body of work stands as an ode to his recently perished feline household companion Theo, as evidenced by both Instagram-housed testimonies from the alt-folk wonderkid himself, as well as a cat-friendly tracklist sporting cuts such as “This is Your House”, “At Home With the Animals”, and of course, “Theo Is Dreaming”.
Records happen. Sometimes you have to wrestle them down like a bronco, other times you wake up to one song…..something you dreamt – and the next thing you know that song called all its friends over to a party. Without telling you. That’s exactly this.
Romeo & Juliet is a summer album. It’s maybe the first summertime album I’ve ever made, on purpose, front to back. It’s like the tall, long slightly mysterious sister to Easy Tiger. There’s a lot of room here and the stories all unwind like a long hot drive in the south with the windows down – sunshine blasting everything. And by the time the record ends it’s just early night – still blue notes in the dark purple patches of stars up the road hurling towards the hood of the car.
When this album is on vinyl, you’ll open the first page and it’ll just say “For Theo” because this is his album. This is his house.
He loved music so much and many of these songs had a bass part or vocal part being played with him asleep on my lap or curled up beside me. He was omnipresent when I made music or listener to albums. He is still. The others were made with him close by or on my mind. And the last few, made on his last few nights on earth – attentively listening to me play, eyes half closed with that low rumble of a purr. He was my best friend. He saved my life and loved me when I became a shadow to the world. That turned out to be the biggest gift I could have been given. That last couple years with him letting the days unspool – lost in the mirth.
These songs are about old loves, about Theo and about celebrating old loves and old friends that were here once and are now gone – in a big wreath of memory and monochromatic visions of times that go by too fast. It’s a summer album with summer chords and meant to be like that heat in the middle summertime where everything is so electric and so bright – and the world feels like another planet, a new neighborhood now alight and made of bright yellow and green halos. Squint and you’ll hear it.
One of my favorite albums ever and still to this day is Louder Than Bombs, a long 24 track album that although were once singles, came together in a new way to make this big beautiful sprawling album you could collapse into – and discover new things in over time. It lasted all summer and became like a summer memory by fall. By winter it was like a fireplace in my Walkman.
To me that is what Romeo & Juliet is. I dreamt that title song and dreamt a few after like “At Home With The Animals” and followed that river here – to this album -just as it is. One song at a time.
So with great love and affection and excitement, I pass it on to you now.
Ladies and Gentlemen….
“Romeo & Juliet.”
If it were not self-evident enough, the above is the sole available excerpt of official accompanying text stemming from the North Carolina-native’s camp one could have pass as PR material surrounding this latest exploit. Romeo & Juliet is the singer’s twentieth studio album as a solo act. Recycling and reinforcing the marketing roll out tactics adopted for his still fresh hot off the press March double threat, Adams opted once again for a cut-out-the-middleman antic: offering the record as an exclusive high-fidelity digital download purchase through his label (complete with two bonus strings attached; the Nebraska-indebted “Desperate Times” and an alternate take of supreme album track “Somethings Missing”). The project is to remain solely available via PaxAm for about three weeks, before receiving a more widespread digital release and distribution on licensed streaming services on the eve of his acclaimed return to live shows on the US East coast in May, after a four-year absence on the road.
With another two waxed sides and nineteen new numbers to comb through barely a month after his long-awaited and highly-anticipated Chris offering, the 47-year-old artist and poet truly is demanding extra overtime from his core listenership (for reference, this is Adams’ fourth album within the span of just fourteen months, since his splendidly somber and dour December 2020 Wednesdays project). Luckily for him, most seem to be onboard and are supporting his new found retail venture in earnest. According to him and the aforementioned citation, Romeo & Juliet is a summer album. The first summer after the pandemic. And a polished and sanitised one at that, too. May we add. With the slight exception of Big Colors‘ high-grade mixing and major label studio-earmarked production, by nearly all standards this latest effort sports a significantly more refined and careful sound compared to both the dusty direct-to-tape feel of Wednesdays and the draft-like low-fidelity of his more recent Chris.
The veiled and latent recalls to his 2007 Easy Tiger LP mentioned in the press release might only ring true to a limited extent, as well. For Romeo & Juliet is clearly and evidently a post-self-titled Ryan Adams creation—an epistemological third act career record. Granted, cuts like the well-mannered and forlorn piano-led ballad “Rain in LA”, or the epic six-and-a-half minute Cardinals jam and side A coda “In the Meadow”, come across as true blue mid-to-late 00s Adams lore. Yet, on the other hand, the bare and stripped back title track, or the aforementioned “At Home With the Animals”, immediately throw listeners into a more current and relevant Wednesdays-era folk benchmark. Elsewhere, the undeniable album standout and endless catch “Doylestown Girl”, as well as the strong and memorable album opener “Rollercoaster”, sound like they are rocking Big Colors fingerprints all over them (as a matter of fact, the former was making its way to middle-of-the-road heartland radio stations in promotion to said record as far back as 2019).
If Chris was an album made for his untimely and dearly departed namesake relative, Romeo & Juliet is for everybody else (and Theo). Strikingly more accessible and immediate, this collection of songs was deliberately earmarked as a collective solstitial soundtrack for the whole world to enjoy. Crucially, in doing so this 19-track opus sees a Ryan Adams freed and liberated from preconceived templates, allowed to move past the commitments of a self-inflicted trilogy bandwidth three years ago. Unlike Big Colors—another project billed as a sunny season musical companion by its head sculptor—this full length exhumes and emanates a sonic authoring depth that the former major label-inked record could not quite afford to indulge in, for a multitude of reasons. The soft, tender, and melancholic “In the Blue of the Night” at number two on the tracklist, for instance, is easily one of the stickiest and addictive numbers the musician has put out in the last decade. Similarly, the plastic and glossy soundbed ornating the soulful “Anything”, as well as the inherent musical development arranged on “Earthquake” and “Losers”, all denote superior musicianship and a songcrafting paralleling career-highs for the rocker.
More deceivingly, coarse and fibrous offerings such as “Somethings Missing”, “This Is Your House”, and “Theo Is Dreaming”, show us that the former Whiskeytown ringleader still knows better of oversterilizing dangerous, unsolicited, and incongruous feelings. Yes, these three songs do sound like demos, but that is kind of the point. In contrast to a few genuinely underworked and awkward mixes making their way onto Chris’s final bundle last month, the unfiltered and existential impetus behind these songs is perfectly at home within the walled confines of such imperfect and erratic wrappers: “This is your house / It’s where you live / Now I’m the one the one who’s waiting by the door to let you in / I know, I know / I’m supposed to move on / To let it go / But this is your house / Until you come back to me / Until I fall asleep“. Then again, one of the most enthralling elements about this project is Adams’ ability to undercut such moments with legitimate catharsis, made of joyousness and elation (lest we forget, on paper this remains another monument of eulogy, albeit zoological). This is best evidenced by the upbeat artistic lifelines of numbers such as “I Can’t Remember”, “Run”, and the waltzy evocative album closer “They Will Know Our Love”.
Early fan reception to this release seems to indicate that this might go down as one of Ryan Adams’ most well received and widely appreciated records in over a decade. While Romeo & Juliet does not have the focus and cohesion of his 2014 self-titled, or even the lavish grandeur of Prisoner, it does stand to represent probably the most generous and forgiving gateway to the pen, mind, and music of one of this millennium’s country rock prodigal sons. All is left for new, old, and lost listeners alike, is to approach the Veronese balcony window this album is leaning over from, and start serenading its big wreath of memory and monochromatic visions of times that go by too fast.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
ROMEO & JULIET
2022, PaxAm Recording