Stream Ryan Adams’ III/IV in full here.
After releasing three albums in 2005, a move that yielded two country-rock homeruns (Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights) and one strikeout (29), Ryan Adams slowed things down during the decade’s second half. He spent a year on the road with his band, the Cardinals, and began putting to bed some of the addictions that had been threatening to upend his solo career: alcohol, speedballs, pills and the compulsion to release an album (or three) every 12 months. Two-thousand six came and went, and when the summer of 2007 rolled around, it brought with it a focused, poignant record called Easy Tiger. The first sober album of Adams’ career, Easy Tiger was filled with quick, three-minute songs that rarely strayed off course. For those who wanted Adams to clean up his act, this seemed like a promising start. For those who wanted to keep Adams weird, though, Easy Tiger was a scary thing, its very efficiency a sign that alt-country’s wild child was perhaps starting to lose his spunk.
That’s where III/IV comes in. Carved from the same sessions that spawned Easy Tiger, it’s a sprawling double LP filled with half-serious dabblings, fully-serious rock songs, and a handful of genuine gems. This isn’t the first time Adams has created an album out of stray tunes; 2002’s Demolition was the product of three unreleased studio records. But III/IV feels far more cohesive than that, with contributions from a hotshot band (perhaps the best incarnation of the Cardinals to date, featuring both bassist Catherine Popper and guitarist Neil Casal) and vocal performances that occasionally trump those on Easy Tiger’s final tracklist. Whether he’s channeling Morrissey via the Killers on “Ultraviolet Light” or paying homage to half-baked heavy-metal epics with “Kill the Lights,” Adams sounds lucid and limber, with a sense of humor that rarely threatens to steer the more earnest songs off course.
There’s a sameness to the guitar sounds, the likely result of recording too much music in too short a time, so III/IV keeps itself diverse by focusing on other areas, namely the sheer number of genres that are represented here. Folk, ‘70s country, metal, Strokes-influenced rock, New Wave and Brit-pop all share equal space, along with a handful of songs that jangle with the familiarity of Adams’ best work. Adams could still use a good editor to separate the wheat from the chaff, but III/IV is still a solid outing.