Truly and honestly, we never thought we would say this, but with last Friday’s release of FM, singer/songwriter Ryan Adams has officially dropped more studio albums in the last nineteen months than the whole 2010s combine. What’s more, there already seem to be two additional LPs dolled up in the can for the endlessly productive 47-year-old North Carolinian musician and poet, both slated for release later in the year. Those extra two would bring the total 2022 full length project tally to an unprecedented five (!)—which would in turn render the last 24 months at that point as prolific as his whole previous thirteen years of career, with respect to unveiling brand new material. And to think that when talking about the former Whiskeytown and Cardinals ringleader, one is already dealing with the pantheon of one of the most relentlessly fertile artists of this generation (for the record, FM is Adams’ 21st solo studio album to date).
Unlike the last two stream-of-consciousness, batched and collated catharses that came by way of March’s Chris and April’s Romeo & Juliet, FM sticks its audiowaved landing as a compact and concise one-sided album, clocking in at a comparatively scant 10 tracks and 33 minutes of runtime. Much like its two near double LP predecessors though, the record finds the Grammy-nominated alt-rock prodigy coasting through a vivid, exuberant, and multi-layered heartland rock sonic canvases—if not power pop, at times—with renewed ventures into deep-ended seas of crunchy chorus as well as reverb effects to complement semi-idly evocative songwriting motives. Self-proclaimed and billed as “the musical equivalent of Albert Einstein’s ghost punching George Washington’s ghost in the nuts” by his camp, the windowed project is once again initially only being made available for premium purchase on Adams’ own Pax Am label store from Friday 22nd July, awaiting a wider worldwide release on all remaining digital outlets on 19th August.
By the creator’s own admission, in contrast to its previous two ‘caught-up-with-time’, cacophonic, and self-published exploits, FM also symbolises his return to a somewhat more formal and fully fledged marketing strategy, with the record having gone through the necessary due diligence in order for it to be picked up and chartered by conventional record industry bodies (presumably for the first time since before his Wednesdays/Big Colors/Chris trilogy). Sonically, the record does indeed exhume a more intentional and assertive attempt at gelling together a batch of songs that, while not necessarily on the lyrical front, all sound like they were germed and sprouted within the confines of the same musical garden of Eden, before mustering up enough survival-of-the-fittest oomph to stick together and solidarize as a self-referential oasis (although admittedly, “Fairweather” is reportedly a Big Colors throwaway…). Think looser and jollied up Smiths meet accessible Big Star, sprinkle a dash of self-titled era Adams, and even if you’re amongst the plebs salivating for FM’s full public availability at the tail end of August, you’ll have earned a fairly accurate depiction of how this half hour and change rings.
In his typical misfit pariah style, much of the new project’s online promotion consisted of chopped and screwed unplugged Creed and REM covers, full giveaways of “What a Waste” and “Oh My Sweet Carolina“—both unreleased cuts off his last two forthcoming fall and winter drops this year, Return to Carnegie Hall and 1985—the FM outtake “Take the Money“, as well as motley clips and bobs from each of the ten records queued up on FM, gauntlet style. Similarly counterintuitively, the closest one could have pass as lead singles for the exploit would have to be the 4th July handout “When She Smiles“—a brilliant Johnny Marr-worship tracklisted at number four on the album’s A side, finding peak ecstatic Adams tapestries, arrangements, and lyrics—as well as ‘hot one’ “Fantasy File“, a smooth and silky saxophone-led bluesy serenade unveiled days before the album’s (exclusive) street date, sequenced right before “When She Smiles” at number three.
We know all too well how at this point it is near impossible to establish how and when exactly these ten tracks were written and recorded—God forbid, the exquisite and formidable album coda “Someday” could be hiding in plain sight if quietly inserted into 2017’s Prisoner tracklist. What one can attest to, however, is how much more focused, experiential, and cohesive this latest collection of songs is, relatively speaking. Mind you—the thematic arc is nowhere near as conceptual as on, say Prisoner, and the production and mixing mantel can’t compare to his rose-coloured Blue Note Records days yielding something like his 2014 eponymous epic. Yet, on almost each wavelength-chaptered station on FM, there are an otherworldly gated snare drum, multilayered strata of acquose reverb, lots and lots of arpeggio-ed strumming, and mighty fine songwriting at their core. Color that formulaic, but even humouring Adams and Pax Am as they afforded themselves to indulge in yet another crate-digging curatorial mixtape-like stunt feels like a pleasant and benevolent admission to have been punk’d here. Frankly, one could also choose to simply view FM as a slick and watertight little 10-track LP with lots of teeth; for bliss often lurks in the hive-mind ignorance of not overthinking.
The Jacksonville-native saw fit to alert listeners that “Ancient Incan and Aztec cultures warned not downloading FM once it was released would turn a human skeleton into a chalky dinosaur poo that the Gods would use to draw clouds on mountain rock once the person had ‘passed’”, yet we claim one ought not go quite as far to attain a wholesome and elated enjoyment outta this sweet little petty record. What we’ll certainly take away from it are the profoundly intense grace of A-side record flipper “Hall of Shame”—an urgent and poignant reflection of one’s true rock bottom set to lush six string motives and a converging outro that might stand the test of time as one of Adams’ most perfect. “So Dumb” is so earnest and stoic a barebone composition that one could easily imagine it being rendered under a whole host of different instrumental renditions and arrangements, and still kick listeners in the gut the same elemental way. Elsewhere, the glossy dream rock tapestries and lush articulations on the aforementioned “Someday” might make for what is the best third-act Ryan Adams album closer committed to tape.
If anything, it’s more of the upbeat and groovy moments on the album that come across as most rickety and frail. Granted, a few of them, such as “Love Me Don’t” at number two or penultimate cut “Do You Feel”, also suffer ever so slightly from a lack of extra TLC on the production end, but even in hearing something like FM’s centerpiece “Wild & Hopeless”, one can’t quite shake off the feeling that it sounds more like a micro-serviced pastiche of solid compositional ideas all frankenstein’d together, rather than a tune arriving at its final evolution stage by way of an organic, raw, and un-doctored fashion. Not that this should necessarily matter, or even influence one’s enjoyment of the record, but when set side by side with stronger and more definitive songs like “I Want You“, “When She Smiles, “Hall of Shame”, or “Fairweather”, they do tend to stick out a little bit like sore thumbs. Nonetheless, Adams catches way more flies with honey than vinegar, and thankfully FM is by and large a victorious sunlit affair. Considering it got dished out on the heels of two double LP grieving odes to the dearly departed, we’ll take the switch of pace in spades.
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