Ryan Adams: “III/IV”

A prominent figure of the alt-country movement, Ryan Adam’s 21-song “III/IV” is a pop/rock double album composed of leftovers from Ryan Adams and the Cardinals 2006 “Easy Tiger” sessions.

Unfortunately, a double album – especially one composed of unused tracks from years past – runs the risk of having a couple marring features. Namely, it’s almost certain that the record could be stripped to one disc, with only the best songs (there are always some songs that are better), and there’s a chance that the sheer volume may disconnect songs and ruin any meaning or purpose the listener may take from the music. These things can turn into compilations as opposed to albums quickly. It doesn’t help that these songs are all old “throwaways.”

As you put more tracks on an album, it increases the chance for error in every way and it makes it harder to keep the listener hooked.  Even The Beatles were criticized by many for their massive “White Album.” As a matter of fact, the “White Album” didn’t work for those people for the exact opposite reason “III/IV” doesn’t for me – the Beatles’ songs were too different; Adams’ are too similar.  Needless to say, if the Fab Four were affected by this, Ryan Adams has his work cut out for him.

That being said, the music on “III/IV” isn’t bad. Adams’ eclectic songwriting ability comes through. The man who established himself as a country musician pumps out edgier pop/rock riffs with only a slight hint of country throughout the album.

Adams shows that he definitely has it in him to write some catchy tunes. Almost all of the songs have a catchy hook or progression scattered somewhere in their three-minute lives. However, there’s a lack of truly memorable tunes that stand out amidst the collection of 21 very similar songs.

“Dear Candy” is a high point on the record, as it’s a culmination of the catchy, simple style of pop/rock Adams is going for. The smooth groove is catchy enough to stick out.

Most of the songs that you’ll remember make themselves known because of either their heaviness or the sudden left turns they take.

“No” is memorable because of the staccato guitar riff that’s just a bit heavier than most of the album. The rest of the song blends in with the rest of the album, but that one riff is sure to stick out in your mind. The same can be said for “Icebreaker.”

“Numbers” is also noteworthy for its fast-paced, punk-kissed sound. That is, until it starts to fluctuate and begins to change tempo a few times. You’ll remember this one for better or worse.

“Death and Rats” is a much softer song, notable for its lack of roaring distorted guitars and Adams’ melodies, which you just might be able to remember after you’re done with the song.

You’re likely to remember the names of these five tracks for one reason or another but, to be honest, they’re really not much better as whole songs than anything else on “III/IV.”

A lot of the songs have something mildly interesting or catchy about them, with maybe a twangy lead here or a catchy vocal melody there.  But, they just don’t have anything you’ll recall by the time you’ve started listening to the next one. It’s a huge problem of having 21 similar tracks crammed together in a double album. It gets much harder to prevent repeating yourself, and they all just begin to meld together into one sea of jangly guitars and Adams voice.

The best part of the album would have to be the jam (or at least that’s what it seems to be) at the end of the last track, “Kill the Lights.” You can trace the jam as it comes into its full form; the drummer builds up the unconventional beat and the guitarists figure out what they’re doing. These three minutes are the best on the album because they’re finally something that’s legitimately different from the 60 minutes that precede them.

Adams should have dispersed more of these genuinely interesting moments throughout the album to break up the monotony. His songs are good, but it’s pretty much impossible for anyone to listen to an hour of the same thing.
The bottom line is, “III/IV” shouldn’t really be considered an album. It’s a compilation of unreleased music for Adams’ fans to listen to following his departure from the band. It’s not something you want to get if you wish to explore Adams’ music for the first time.

Rating: 3 out of 5