At the rate that Ryan Adams has been penning tunes as of late, some cannot help but worry that his meticulous composition and artistic integrity may begin to suffer. Meanwhile, others are just fretting that the poor guy is going to give himself carpal tunnel. The third album by Adams to hit store shelves in 2005, 29 finds Ryan flying solo and teaming up again with the production mastermind behind earlier works like Heartbreaker to bring us a simpler, more stripped-down auditory experience. Leaving behind his buddies in the Cardinals, Adams frees himself from verbose instrumentation to present his songs as they should be played – strummed lazily and sung with the raspy resolve of an early, quieter Tom Petty.
While 29 doesn’t carry the obvious appeal and radio-ready ditties that littered Gold, it does do a decent job of mixing the catchy lyrical pieces with the whispered melancholy that Adams’ fans have grown to love. With its relative brevity – the album only consists of nine tracks – 29 reads like an emotionally charged letter to a lost love. The repetition of a few key images (namely oceans, cliffs, rain, falling and drowning/sinking) just serves to further highlight the similarities between one song and the next. With lines like, “We were supposed to rise above / But we sink / Into the sea” (“Nightbirds”), “You can take care of me / The way I’d like to feel / Underneath the riverbed / Across the icy lake” (“Blue Sky Blues”) and “Where ever you are I hope you’re happy now / I’m caught in a dream and I can’t get out” (“Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part”), the majority of the compositions unfortunately tend to get buried underneath Adams’ somber, yet spiteful, lyrics.
Still, standout tracks tend to save the listener from suffocating in poetic heartache. The title track is a genius stream-of-consciousness jam that sounds like the Rolling Stones at their twangy best. Herein Adams meticulously strums the tale of an invincible junkie that’s both malicious (“And whatever it is about you I’ve always hated / Is something about myself I couldn’t hide”) and laughably self-deprecating (“I got arrested down south for hitting a clerk… / He leered at my lady and then he touched her face / Thank God she had the money to bail me out”). In contrast, the piano-driven “Starlite Diner” succeeds with its quiet minimalism. Hushed vocals and solemn images (“It’s a blow out / On a birthday cake / And I’m a birthday candle”) manage to make the song work despite its clich