Funny things happen when music artists evolve. In most other contexts, evolution implies a forward progress, a form of adaptation that improves the object or organism. But in the realm of popular music, evolution is a dangerous word. A word that has the power to alienate an artist’s fan base and even cause it to drastically shrink. No wonder PR companies and artists themselves are loathe to use the word. Why would an artist want to evolve” if it means scaring off his fans?
But Ryan Adams doesn’t give a rat’s ass about his fans. Well, that’s not true. But he certainly doesn’t let them guide his career. If it were up to them, he’d still be slumming it in Tennessee, churning out battered and bruised alt-country. Instead, he’s hightailed it to Los Angeles, got himself a nice, cushy contract with Lost Highway Records (a subsidiary of the Island/Universal imprint), and has made the switch to big money production values. In other words, most of his fans up to this point are likely to be totally disgusted and put off by Adams’ new direction. However, in ditching his loyal fans, Adams may very well have tapped a much wider audience, one that doesn’t get off on scruffy production and Morrissey references.
Gold, his second solo effort following the critically revered but commercially ignored Heartbreaker, finds Adams in fine spirits. The bitter troubadour that crafted the lovesick Heartbreaker is seldom glimpsed this time out. Adams seems strangely mellowed by life in the big city. It’s not that he’s become lazy or any less driven toward perfection, but his tone has undergone a definitive change. This Adams doesn’t have time to wallow in despair or lash out in anger; he’d rather profess his love for New York City. The generally sunny disposition of Gold is sure to throw those fans accustomed to Adams playing the role of the spurned-lover. Still others will be scratching their heads at the expansive production and inclusion of a choir. But those who don’t approach Gold with any preconceived notions of what a Ryan Adams album should sound like will be rewarded with a pleasant and uplifting listening experience.
I’m pretty sure that veteran Adams fans will yell bullshit and crack Gold in half after one listen. Let them. Adams gets props in my book for being one of the few artists that has the balls to evolve without so much as an apology. And he gets triple bonus props for noting the irony of his situation on the Bloodshot Records Web site (his former record label) in a message entitled Top Ten Reasons I Am a Sell-Out Loserbaked Oven-Shithead.” Adams is evolving, but don’t feel too bad for him. He’s selling out with a smile.