One quick way to realize one has exhausted all eligible attributes to describe North Carolinian singer/songwriter Ryan Adams’s unparalleled hyperactivity ensues upon by being left at, well, a loss for words by the release of his fourth studio album of 2022, Devolver—his twenty-second solo outing overall (and counting…). As if the current year of our Lord had not already seen the 47-year old author trial and error pretty much every project roll out antic under the sun, spanning scarcely announced windowed double LPs (Chris and Romeo & Juliet) as well as full-blown industry promo pandering including physical limited edition cassettes (FM), with the brilliant, astute, and ruffian Devolver the boundlessly prolific artist opted for a non-streaming free digital giveaway on 23rd September, of all methods. Evidently, it’s high-time for mid-Noughties peer-to-peer file sharing nostalgia all over again.
Another emphatic clue that demonstrates just how deep and backlogged the Jacksonville native’s songwriting well extends descends upon us by way of the realization that this latest batch of cuts actually goes to jeopardize a previously announced wealthy release roadmap for the remained of this year, teased over the summer by the PaxAm boss. Said ‘out soon’ catalogue allegedly bore two additional drops slated for this forthcoming fall and winter: Return to Carnegie Hall and 1985. Thusly, with the complete surprise release of Devolver, Adams’s 2022 total album tally would reportedly spike up to six: that’s a whole entire twenty year-album discography worth of material for your average band, only being put out in one single year (!). Bookended as both a token of worship and gratitude toward his ride-or-die listenership, as well as the remarkable celebration of one full sober lap around the sun, the 11-track Ian Sefchick-mastered project was birthed whilst chaperoned by the following incipit:
To my fans,
Today I want to say THANK YOU and I love you, in the language we speak to each other – with music.
DEVOLVER is for you, please feel free to download for free – this is your party and this album is me celebrating you.
In my darkest moments you lifted me up, creatively and personally and that love was instrumental in how I got here today, to safety and in a place of healing – one year sober.
Please accept this album as token of my appreciation for all the love you have shown me through the years, for your encouragement to continue on when I didn’t think I could and for standing with me, rebuilding this dream house brick by brick.
Sometimes the trick is to strip it all back, to keep it so simple life has a way to throw you some curb balls – to devolve back into the apeman and embrace the wild spirit in our bones.
This is that album and it has been my honour to have been given the chance to find myself and be myself fully – embracing my music and my life as it comes – in its own way – free of the patterns of the past.
So thank you. This one’s for you. You are truly loved and appreciate with all that I am.
By way of a brush up: Devolver follows on the heels of this summer’s commercially ambitious yet somewhat lukewarm FM, a record which aside from a few weeks at improbable positions within a handful countries’ Top 200 albums charts on scattered services, coupled with sporadic grandparental charting on iTunes, did regrettably not seem to live up to the PaxAm camp’s expectations. Musically though, the radio format-worshipping oeuvre still ended up rendering one of Adams’ most focused, well-jointed, and tastefully curated projects since the austere and dour Wednesdays: truth be told, this latest Fab Four-indebted exploit does not fall far from that sonic tree, albeit trading power and jangle pop for heartland/garage indie rock.
With a bang-on runtime of thirty minutes, it’s the most concise and reduced collection of songs the former Cardinals frontman has put out since his accomplished and impactful hardcore punk digression 1984—itself the trailblazer for the cleverly versatile and sublime 2014 PaxAm Singles instalment series. Devolver rings also above-average sticky and immediate for Adams’s canon, with a significant number of knee-jerk hooks appearing for the first time in his recorded history that one can’t quite believe he had not written before (start with “Stare at the TV”: “I like to stare at the TV / and wait here for you / My life wasn’t easy / and then I met you / I like to stare at the TV / I miss you / Do you miss me“).
The semantic irony of opening this complimentary record’s dances with the bluesy and ragged “Don’t Give It Away” is probably lost on no one, although it’s mostly the head-scratching lyrical prose laced into the tune that most betrays the built-in priceless component of the album: “Sick people / do you need to see a doctor? / Double too cool and icy / so bi-polar“. Similarly honky-tonk-sounding is the foot-stomping “Alien USA” at number three on the tracklist, a crooning exercise set to a fuzzy, reverberated, and groovy soundbed accompanying soaring chorus vocals and tired guitar solos alike. Meanwhile, two separate records on this thing, “Banging On My Head” and “I’m In Love With You”, clock in at less than two minutes each. While the former can be afforded a pass by virtue of its upbeat semi-punk rock flair and off-key vocal delivery, the latter nets a criminally underdeveloped re-recording and rendition of the dusty and nocturnal demo-like unplugged offering dating back to almost a decade ago, initially unveiled as part of the Do You Laugh When You Lie?, Vol. 4 issue of the aforementioned PaxAm Singles Series in 2014.
Without a doubt, it’s the album’s halfway point that houses the strongest and sharpest moments. The fierce and dreamy “Marquee” is a flawless exercise in textbook heartland rock and roll, unblemished and immaculate in its multicolored innocence as it pledges to surrender to the all-encompassing might of love. The song is followed by the hinged introspection of “Eyes on the Door”, a cacophonic six-string affair decorated by impressive vocal flexes and enveloping a suspiciously earnest amount of vice-laden frivolousness meets near-epiphany clarity: “I get to thinking I wake up so cold in the night / Hyperventilate and sigh / I get to thinking I get high“. The record’s central backbone reaches a highpoint with “Too Bored to Run”, a fantastic, anthemic, and timeless enchantment pulling out all the classic rock stops at number seven—from the songwriting at its core to Adams’ passionate, lulling, and life-depending performance—carrying what some might argue are the most essential elements of the alt/country rocker’s post-self titled third act songwriting arc.
Devolver‘s back-end wraps everything up in a plateauing, spotty, and perhaps subaltern way, corralling what sounds like a Chris throwaway amongst throwaways (“Free Your Self”), a sample of bum guitar notes that almost have to be intentional (cue in “Get Away” at 0:04), as well as a Cardinals-evoking experimental coda that too suffers from painful and shameful underwriting (“Why Do You Hate Me”). Mind you, there are no flat out fillers on here—if anything, some compositions could have used some more fleshing out and another minute or two of breathing time. As a front-to-back listening experience, this thing might be better than FM, which sparks reasonable doubt around whether the roll out succession (and accompanying industry plugs) should have been inverted. Yet now more than ever before in Adams’ career, spontaneity of abundance seems to be sole tenet around which to predict what is next. Considering the remarkable accessibility and artistic quality packed into his first ever purposefully gratis album, devolving into a primordial musical core might just be the name-checked clue that’s hiding in plain sight.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2022, PaxAm Recording