Ryan Adams and the Cardinals clean up, fall short on new album

Ryan Adams & The CardinalsCardinology(Lost Highway)2 StarsAt the release of his new album, Cardinology, Ryan Adams is sober and happy, arguably for the first time in his career. In his new band, The Cardinals, Adams has found first-rate collaborators. He has finally stopped doing speed-balls and fighting with reviewers, and now can focus entirely on his music. So why isn’t this album awesome?The issue with Cardinology is not that it’s a bad album, rather that it’s a forgettable album. In cleaning up, Adams seems to have traded in the cocaine for Xanax. Cardinology is an entirely mediocre and sleepy affair. Very little stands out as terrible, but little strikes the listener either. Adams has a tendency to write songs that are ostensibly about someone else, but are actually self-directed. His major strength previously has been his ability to make intensely personal songs feel universal as a result of their emotional honesty. Yet, in the new song “Crossed Out Name,”Adams sings, “I wish I could tell you just how I feel/ I wish I could tell you just how I’m hurt,” and by end of the album the listener feels the same way. “For everyone alone I wish you faith and hope/ and all the strength to cope/ to be your own best friend,” Adams sings on the opening track, “Born Into A Light.” While it’s a nice sentiment and all, I’m afraid Chicken Soup for the Soul may already have trademarked it.The Cardinals put on a stronger showing than their lead singer, but it’s still nothing outstanding.Adams and the Cardinals perform with fantastic emotion and energy in live shows, but Cardinology unfortunately fails to capture this. The Cardinals are obviously talented musicians and the songs are well constructed, but they’re flat and unremarkable.There are, however, a couple of songs that manage to keep their heads up. In “Magik,” a faux-hard rock anthem, Adams lays aside his concern about telling everyone that he’s happy in the most obvious terms, and just has fun with the band. This track comes the closest to replicating the energy of their concerts. The final track, “Stop,” finally achieves what the whole album was attempting. It’s a quiet, understated piano ballad, and when Adams sings, he sounds like he actually believes what he’s saying-a nice change from the terrible opener, “Born Into A Light.”Cardinology is okay at best, and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals have made far better albums. Go explore the rest of Adams’ extensive discography and skip over Cardinology – you won’t remember it anyway.