Though often criticized for over-saturation, Ryan Adams is as efficient as he is prolific; as a songwriter, he works in the scope of records, not tunes. So, as a record buyer, if you’re only interested in the “New Dylan” Adams, stick with Heartbreaker. If you only care about the Grateful Dead-circa-American Beauty-esque Adams, all you need is Cold Roses. If the Flying Burrito Brothers are more your bag, look no further than Jacksonville City Nights. If all you like is British mope-rock, you’re likely to be better off with Love Is Hell than you are with whatever the Gallagher brothers are up to these days. Easy Tiger, on the other hand, is Adams’s most eclectic album since the near-breakthrough (and way overlong) Gold and there are droplets of each of Adams’s genre flirtations, so Easy Tiger actually feels a bit more like a compilation than it does a “new” record. Easy Tiger lacks the cohesiveness of, say, Jacksonville City Nights or Love Is Hell, but it benefits immensely from cutting the dead weight and dead-horse beating. After all, can even the biggest Ryan Adams fans defend over 70 minutes of Morrissey aping?
Opener “Goodnight Rose” is a billowy mess of Jerry Garcia-inspired guitar arpeggios but, like some of the best Ryan Adams songs, it lurches rather than staggers or swings (it’d go well on Cold Roses). Dig how Adams’s mush-mouthed tenor tries to cram the lyric “The hustle and bustle of the traffic greets you kindly I can tell because you’re smiling” into a line that grants about half that much space. But “Rose” is one of only two songs (the other is “Halloween Head”) on Easy Tiger that hints at a flare-up of the bad-boy Ryan Adams: that is to say, the guy who samples ex-girlfriend Parker Posey’s voicemails or gets into pissing contests with Jack White or turns “This shit just fucks you up” into a chorus.
“Two” takes things down about a hundred notches; it’s the kind of mournful, restrained ballad that he drafted for the last couple of Whiskeytown albums. It’s a lovely song—easily Easy Tiger‘s best—but it’d be pretty gentle stuff even without Sheryl Crow’s backing vocals. (Note that this is Easy Tiger, not Easy, Tiger: the title isn’t suggesting a beast that needs taming, but a beast that’s already tamed. Hobbes has more bite than a guy singing a song called “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”) Rocker “Halloween Head” has some “Hell’s Bells”-style clanging on it, and an announcement of “Guitar solo!” right before an e-bowed guitar solo (it actually sounds more like keyboards than strings, but I digress). But if you’re going to act larger than life, you need to sound like you’re having a little bit more or a lot less fun. “Halloween Head” is catchy, but it’s thankfully more akin to his rendition of “Nervous Breakdown” on the Black Flag tribute Rise Above than it is to Gold‘s weak stab at arena rock “Nobody Girl.”
What Easy Tiger lacks in craft or measure, it makes up for in raw inspiration, which makes it all the more addictive. If the older, gentler Ryan Adams is responsible for Easy Tiger‘s best tracks, he’s clearly no wiser, because there’s a fat chunk of folksy filler in the middle of the record: “These Girls,” “The Sun Also Sets,” and “Off-Broadway” teeter too far into Counting Crows territory for this listener’s taste. The album finishes strong, though, closing with the harmonica-driven weeper “I Taught Myself To Grow Old”; for all the Gap ads and green room hissy-fits, he probably deserves the “New Dylan” tag as much as anybody.