Way back in early 2019, before publication of a New York Times article which would torpedo his career, Ryan Adams announced the upcoming release of three albums. Part of that promise came out late last year – the late-night-drop Wednesdays was a mishmash of older (unreleased) and newer songs which was neither good enough to jump start his musical life nor bad enough to be hate-listenable. With the exception of “When You Cross Over,” a genuinely beautiful tribute to his late brother, it was largely forgettable. Back to 2019 – Big Colors was to have been the first release of the promised three. Last week, the album finally arrived via streaming services (physical copies to come shortly), so we finally have what feels like Adams’ first fully intended record since we learned about his behavior. Will this be the album that revives his career?
Described by Adams on his Twitter page (since advance copies and press kits were not made available) as “the soundtrack to a movie from 1984 that exists only in my soul,” Big Colors is, indeed, a whole mess of shimmery guitars, synth, and songs about rain and longing. And it does, at times, feel cinematic. “It’s So Quiet, It’s Loud” is one of a few tunes that features strings. “Power,” all choppy guitars and distorted vocals, could score a crazy foot chase scene through some 80s version of a postmodern decaying cityscape. And the drive-fast-no-FASTER “Middle of the Line” has a Romantics-ish bounce to it – it’s dumb, loud and damn fun to listen to.
It’s the love songs on Big Colors that are…troublesome. According to his own vast catalog, Adams has been tragically unlucky in love (and, in all fairness, he did lose a young partner to cancer, which is undoubtedly horrible and deeply scarring). But while his previous lovelorn epics had you pulling for the poor guy, the (corroborated) revelations of his behavior toward ex-wife Mandy Moore and Phoebe Bridgers, plus others (including, according to the NYT piece, an underage musician), “I Surrender,” a prime slice of 80s-loving Adams, has a great line like, “Your name still hurts to touch,” but it’s not HIS hurt we should be thinking about right now. Like many of the songs on the record, it’s about isolation, but that isolation is self-caused. “In It for The Pleasure” is a pretty acoustic number, but the central idea – “Were you in it for the love/Were you in it for the pleasure?” – just feels…icky. It’s a question he should be answering, not asking.
Isolated from all of the real-life stuff, I enjoyed Big Colors. It’s good. It feels like a logical successor to 2017’s Prisoner. And it’s a much more satisfying, cohesive listen than Wednesdays. Adams’ “soundtrack from 1984” goal is met. But, in the months between Wednesdays and this album, I’ve begun listening to his previous work, because it (for better or worse) puts me back in the space that I was when those albums came out, or times where certain songs hit just right, and I’ve been able to enjoy those listens. But with something as mediocre as Wednesdays, or even something as admittedly good as Big Colors, I just don’t feel like folks (myself included) wil be able to forge the same kind of intimate, unsullied connections to the new songs. Like a longtime love who’s recently – again – broken your heart, there’s just too much fresh history there. https://ryanadamsofficial.com