Ryan Adams Returns with Wednesdays
Fans of Ryan Adams were excited this week when out of the blue the eccentric musician suddenly made some posts online alluding to the possibility of new music. The singer/songwriter has been fairly reclusive since last year when his intentions of releasing three new albums were quashed by a hit-piece in The New York Times, which accused him of sexual misconduct. But those accusations appear to have gone nowhere, and now, Ryan Adams wants to remind the world that he exists, and that he is one of the greatest songwriters alive.
Enter the surprise album drop of Wednesdays. This comes after the launch of a new official website for Adams earlier in the week. The news of the album came suddenly, as out of nowhere it appeared on Apple music with a release date of December 11th, and then some resourceful fans discovered a listing for the album to be sold on vinyl in Germany, with a release date in March of 2021. The buzz was palpable as those who have been wondering if Ryan would ever return were shocked by his out of the blue reappearance. All of the hype turned out to be justified, when Ryan himself made a post with the new album’s cover on Instagram, declaring it would be available on midnight of December 11th.
People who understand technology and are incapable of waiting, like myself, understand that releases like this get heard first in Australia. Therefore, with the use of some clever work arounds, I was able to listen to the album on 12/10 in the States. Having listened to it now around six times, I can tell you that this is the album I have been waiting to hear from Ryan Adams since the breakup of the Cardinals. This is Ryan Adams at his most vulnerable and authentic, with songs of undeniable and visceral honesty. The songs on this album have a prescient and unbridled rawness of emotive power. It’s hard to listen to it and not be overcome with emotion.
Ryan Adams may have disappeared for a year when the Times tried to “cancel” him, but he has returned with an absolute tour de force. His last album Prisoner was released in 2017. And as good as people claimed Prisoner to be back then, make no mistake, Adams has returned with an undeniable masterpiece, releasing as close to a perfect record as you are likely to hear in your lifetime.
Back when Wednesdays was first announced to be a follow-up to Big Colors in 2019, with a third album teased that was never named, the cover had the look and feel of the Bruce Springsteen album Nebraska. It featured the same red font and design as that stripped down classic, only with a promise ring used as the photo. With the new announcement and subsequent release, the cover has been changed to the image featured in this article, a painting of a train station, Siebe Johannes ten Cate’s impressionist painting, Gare du Nord. I believe this is intentional, as the song arrangement and lyrical feel, not to mention the subject matter, all seem to relate to Bob Dylan’s famous album, Blood on the Tracks.
Most of the songs on this record are arranged and mixed to a simple standard of excellence, featuring primarily the acoustic guitar and a bass, with occasional flourishes from a full band, some keyboard here and there, and the ever popular accentuation of the harmonica for rousing the chills upon the backbone. There’s a definite live recording vibe, making the album feel very intimate and personal. On many tracks you can hear the stools creak, and every little shuffle of fingers upon fret board. This is how Ryan Adams is meant to be heard. His voice feels fragile and humble, and yet, confident of its power to convey what needs to be conveyed, even when he is warbling high notes near the point of breaking under their emotional strain.
Right out of the gate, the honesty of Wednesdays hits full force, with the track “I’m Sorry and I Love You.” It’s unclear how much more this record may have changed since 2019 besides the decision to alter the cover artwork, but this opening track definitely feels like an apology from Ryan to the fans who may have felt betrayed or hurt by the allegations that came from the Times article. There’s just something more earnest at play here, a next level of unbridled honesty that makes the effort behind Prisoner seem almost trivial in comparison. And it only gets deeper the further you go into the tracklist.
For me, the standout tracks of the album are definitely “Poison and Pain” which has lyrics such as:
“I was so bad on my own
Drawing maps inside my soul to places nobody goes
Woke up confused, just staring at my telephone
Waiting like I’d ever hear your voice again,”
and the song “So Anyways” which contains the heart rending lines:
“Words crumble into dust
I sit and write your name
Like it was a map for me back to us
But where you lay your head
Is anybody’s guess these days
Our love is a maze
Only one of us was meant to escape.”
Every song on this record has lyrical moments that take your breath away. There isn’t a track that I would skip upon relistening. Each one has its purpose and as a whole, the album functions as one cohesive unit of emotive gravity. As far as I am concerned, this is a perfect album.
It’s an instant classic in the Ryan catalogue. Easily it belongs in the upper echelon of his work, probably at least in the top three. Right now I am struggling to find reasons not to put it at the very top, but I don’t want to jump the gun just because it is so fresh and new to my ears. There’s also the fact that I am extremely emotionally invested in it.
If my wife ever decides to divorce me, this will be the album I can never listen to, because that’s just how real and devastating it is. Multiple times these songs have brought me to tears. I believe this is the saddest album of all time. It’s just that powerful. Just that real. It’s a testament to what music is capable of.
I for one welcome the return of Ryan Adams. The world missed you. But this is music I simply could not have lived without.