Speakers Rating: 96/100
Do I wait here forever for you?
Would you ask me to?
I’ll be honest: I’ve always loved the softer side of Ryan Adams’ music. Don’t get me wrong — I respect how Adams has been true to his muse over the years, giving us great country, rock, and pop albums along the way (in fact, Demolition, a collection of genre-bending demos, is one of his best works). You can’t categorize him, and that’s a good thing; it would be a crime if Adams kept making the same album year after year, something he’s refused to do, thankfully.
But, I do love the man’s words and voice, and that’s where Ashes & Fire shows its teeth.
Adams’ new album is about waiting for the right moment (“Do I Wait,” “Dirty Rain”), and then possibly not having the words to express how you feel (“I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say”). It’s about being grateful that you had the opportunity to experience true love, even if it doesn’t stay with you forever. It’s about being unable to recognize who you once were, and still finding peace with the present (“Lucky Now”).
“Better to have tried at all, at least we got to taste it,” he sings on “Chains of Love.” He’s never been a songwriter who uses promises to get his point across; Adams is much more aligned in a universe that guarantees nothing, where homes are built stone by stone. Here today, possibly gone tomorrow.
The reality on Ashes & Fire is that Adams doesn’t need to make a whole lot of noise to express what’s on his mind. He doesn’t need to sound tortured, either. “Come Home” is assuring and comforting, led by Adams’ gentle vocals: “Nobody has to cry to make it seem real,” he sings.
Ashes & Fire is as real as it gets, though. In a world where pure emotion is often kicked aside for loud rock ‘n’ roll, Adams has made an album to recount the moments where we’re vulnerable, yet strong. Weak as ashes, fierce as fire. Like life and love, giving and taking from one another, until darkness seems kind.