REVIEW: Ryan Adams “Wednesdays”

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If you’re spending time on this website, music has an outsized importance in your life. We all have the artists who hit us the hardest, and for nearly two decades, Ryan Adams was one of those for me. His appearance on Letterman a few short weeks after 9-11 was maybe the first time it felt OK to feel OK again. I first saw him live with my wife. The second time was with the same person, by then my ex-wife – hey, we got along, and we both still loved his music. He was my first Red Rocks show after moving to Colorado. A couple of years later, his Red Rocks show was my last night out before starting cancer treatments. A few months after that, there was me, devouring his just-released Prisoner B-sides with a chemo IV dangling from my right arm. And there were two more Red Rocks shows after that, feeling better each time. In short, Adams’ Gold and Jason Isbell’s Southeastern are probably the two main reasons I’m here writing. But then, in February 2019, the New York Times piece happened. And my relationship with Ryan Adams’ music got a lot more complicated.

Before we can look at Ryan Adams’ new late-night release, Wednesdays, a caveat: if you don’t believe what the women said in the Times article, this is not the place for you. Likewise, in situations like this, the art can’t be separated from the artist. Americana, by its very nature, is not a “shut up and sing” type of music, so “shut up and write” won’t suffice, either. But let’s give the new album an honest listen.

The lead track, “I’m Sorry and I Love You,” full of piano and falsetto, is ostensibly a love song, but it seems to be an overarching (but non-specific) apology  – the first line, in fact, is “I remember you before you hated me.” There are a number of acoustic cuts on the record, several sounding like they could be plopped into a “This Is Us” episode (which, of course, ain’t gonna happen. Ever). There’s an unevenness to the album, too. Many tracks seem to border on home demos, where others are full-band numbers – apparently, the album was culled largely from the three records that Adams was supposed to have released in 2019 before, well, you know.

There are a couple of genuinely good songs on Wednesdays. “Birmingham” is a piano-driven rocker. “Poison & Pain” finds Adams acknowledging at least some of his issues – “My demons got so bored of dreamin’/My demons, alcohol and freedom.” It’s a pretty tune, with an almost innocent trip back to a time when booze was his biggest problem. And “When You Cross Over” approaches greatness. It’s a goodbye to Ryan’s brother, Chris, who died in 2017 after a long-term illness. Adams clearly still struggles with his brother’s absence, wishing that “all your pain dissolves into light.” His prayer that Chris finds family on the other side – “I hope they’re waiting there for you” – is genuinely heartbreaking. 

Perhaps an album dropped a couple weeks before Christmas isn’t the place to address what he’s accused of – and what he DID – but it still feels odd to have no acknowledgement from someone who’s written exhaustively of seemingly every emotion he’s ever experienced. Even if music alone might sway you back to Ryan Adams fandom, I don’t feel like this record is strong enough to do that. And if you need something more substantive than a few good tunes to start listening to Ryan Adams again, you won’t find it on Wednesdays.

 

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: Ryan Adams “Wednesdays”

  1. Great take on this album and the context surrounding it. I was shocked to see it this am as a new album on Apple Music, and I put on my headphones to walk in the snow and listen to it. “I’m Sorry and I Love You” seemed an obvious gesture to what was (very credibly) alleged: it seemed a myopic and insufficient response that was consistent with the myopic and insufficient responses he’s expressed in the wake of February 2019. Still, I was psyched–because I share your same feelings about the massive impact of his music on me these last 20 years–to hear Ryan Adams’s creative life is not over. I also share your view that while there are some strong songs on Wednesdays–it is not a *bad* album–it is not strong enough for me to feel compelled to dive deeply into it, and it doesn’t add to any of his long list of “perfect songs” in my book.

    After listening to it, I thought back to this arresting clip with Mandy Moore beside her new husband Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes, “Didn’t Fix Me,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpbIufgUdmk ) and what must have been going through her head in that clip, and in her sigh at the end. It’s rewarding to see she doesn’t need an “I’m sorry and I love you” from Ryan.

    I then went and re-read the February 2019 New York Times story. I had not known of Phoebe Bridgers until about a week ago, when her album hit the top of all the 2020 Best Albums lists. I was struck by the juxtaposition of her being so prominent in the Ryan Adams story, and his album drop the week that Phoebe’s finally getting major mainstream notice. I think I am going to go listen to that Phoebe Bridgers album now.

    1. A point of clarification, while you learned of Phoebe a week ago from year end best lists, that does not mean she is just now getting mainstream notice. Her Punisher album was released in June, and she had already been appreciated for awhile due to her excellent 2017 debut and her collaboration with Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center, which was released January 2019 and first revealed with an appearance on Colbert.

  2. I’ve had SO many thoughts about this album since I first heard it was coming out at midnight the other night. You touched on so many of them perfectly…it’s a complicated relationship with Ryan and Ryan’s music these days. He has been the soundtrack to much of my adult life…marriage, divorce, death, mourning…you name it. But I was becoming disillusioned with Ryan a bit prior to the 2019 revelations. He seemed to be more of a dick to people on social media. He seemed infallible in his own world and incapable of the criticism that came with putting out albums that, in my mind, were declining in quality over the last few years. I was a Whiskeytown fan, a big fan of him going solo, and as mentioned before, his albums all had meanings and marked points in my life along the way. At some point in the last few years, he seemed to gain a new following who would rip your head off if you even so much as questioned how good Prisoner was, let alone Prisoner B-Sides. And he supported that. I agree with something you mentioned: many of the songs have begun to sound more like demos or quick sketches. The quality is uneven across the albums, and this one is painfully so. The lyrics run from classic Ryan to really trite and obvious…the kind of hokey shit that anyone who has ever attempted to write a song spews out and then becomes embarrassed by years later looking through old notebooks. He seems to want to apologize to everyone, but at the same time you can feel that mostly he just wants to get it over with. For me there was an added coincidental draw to the album…the person I married, divorced and raised kids with shared my passion for his music. That’s all she listened to really. Sadly she died almost two years ago and Ryan’s music always brings me thoughts of her. Her birthday would have been on Friday, so a secret announcement of a midnight album on her birthday seemed so apropos…then to listen to some of the lyrics from When You Cross Over and other mentions of people mourning in Carolina (she was from Carolina) and other songs of loss or missing you and apologies…it was a strange experience to listen to. lt’s hard enough to listen open mindedly to new Ryan music these days when you have a hard time reconciling the events that have come to light. Some people have been very vocal about it and stories ring true. Other incidents are hard to judge without hearing every side of the story, but I don’t doubt their details. I guess so many of us just need to know…is there closure to this? Is it okay to move on from it and attempt to build a new relationship with an artist who has been through something like this and seems apologetic and regretful? Although, who wouldn’t be regretful if your livelihood and credibility was taken away from you because of your own painful actions? Man, it’s complicated. And I wish this album was a lot better.

  3. This is what happens when you have full run of your own studio and no one around you with the intestinal fortitude to tell you ‘No’.

  4. I can’t and shouldn’t listen to this album or any of his music now without his sexual misconduct influencing my experience. But I did listen to this album. Multiple times. It fills me with sadness, because I think it’s a masterful work, far better than anything since 2011’s Ashes & Fire. It’s sad that it will likely never be judged for the music alone. And FWIW, Ryan did issue a lengthy statement earlier this year. While he didn’t specifically address any of the allegations, he did acknowledge that he hurt people, that he is sorry, and that he needs help to change and is getting help.

    1. You are the first person I agree with, everybody is so judgemental. I know he’s no saint. I think this is one of his better albums it has substance. Sometimes less is more you don’t need 20 instruments compress onto a file to make good music. My brother died of a overdose it’s been twenty years but sometimes it feels like yesterday. so I know how he feels. we all make mistakes, what matters is that we learn from them.

  5. I can’t and shouldn’t listen to this album or any of his music now without his sexual misconduct influencing my experience. But I did listen to this album. Multiple times. It fills me with sadness, because I think it’s a masterful work, far better than anything since 2011’s Ashes & Fire. It’s sad that it will likely never be judged for the music alone. And FWIW, Ryan did issue a lengthy statement earlier this year. While he didn’t specifically address any of the allegations, he did acknowledge that he hurt people, that he is sorry, and that he needs help to change and is getting help.

  6. it’s a litle bit Sad Ryan by the numbers. He’s not masterful in the studio on his own by any stretch, and maybe it’s hard getting decent studio folk to work with you when your reputation has been trashed. No court case against him though, so maybe he is just a real shitty boyfriend and not the criminal that the press jumped to paint him as.

  7. As a person who has needed redemption and forgiveness for things I have done I can relate to what he might of felt writing these songs. In Wednesday’s he says “ Cause nobody knows what they really want
    Til’ the car’s full of boxes and you watch it drive off”. I felt that pretty hard. It’s painful to self reflect and realize you were the cause of so much pain and even your own. We all live in glass houses. It’s easy to say you wouldn’t have done this or would have done that. The amazing thing about life is you get another chance if it doesn’t kill you. It’s never easy. I hope the best for Ryan. I miss my family. I fucked up too. I miss my girl… I listened to Easy Tiger after this album. I am now listening to Wednesdays again. It’s a good album. I remember love.

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