The double album is a format that suits Ryan Adams. If there's one thing that could be said about him, it's that he's fucking prolific. Following the release of his critically acclaimed debut, Heartbreaker, Adams would release album after album like a clockwork until 2005 when he released Cold Roses (a double album), Jacksonville City Nights and 29. What's scary about those albums, is how great they all are.
One thing to note though, is Cold Roses does have its issues. Which while being a great album in my opinion does suffer from typical content problems that come with double albums. However Adams once pointed out that the problem with that criticism is, if you get five fans together and asks them to take half the songs and make the best album out of it they'll all pick different tracks. As a music fan, I would agree with this sentiment.
All of this is to say, Adams and company have managed to release another double-album only five years later, on the heels of the Sci-Fi Metal concept album, Orion. Though, the recording of this album occured just after the release and writing of the trilogy of albums mentioned above.
While Easy Tiger was being recorded, tons of other material was as well. Some of these songs (such as Sewers At the Bottom of the Wishing Well) would show up on the Elizabethtown Sessions demos, which can be found floating around the internet. The Elizabethtown Sessions also featured Two and Everyone Knows, which were on Easy Tiger themselves.
There's two things I want you get from that mini-essay up there. Thing 1: Ryan Adams writes a fucking lot of music. Thing 2: I'm an unapologetic fanboy.
When Adams was recording Easy Tiger, and by extension this album, he listened to hip hop to get rid of any "obvious influences." He's stated that Easy Tiger was unnatural to him to record and that he got bummed out while doing it, this album however seems a lot funner and to show the Cardinals and him just fucking around. There's lines like "Happy birthday / I'm your birthday cake and I'm wet" as well as the nerd anthem Star Wars, in which Adams longs for someone who loves him the way he love Star Wars (the original triology), Wizards, and Ninja wars, as well as world domination.
III and IV both represent different sides of his songwriting. On IV, we have a loud and fast track like Numbers with the shout along chorus "we're fucked!", while on III we more slow, sometimes acoustic guitar driven stuff, such as the Crystal Skull or Ultraviolet Light. Both albums offering different things adds to the strength of this release.
III is comparable to the louder moments on Easy Tiger, or Cardionology, it takes more chances then either of those releases though, which occasionally works in it's favor but I wouldn't say the songwriting is necessarily as emotive as tracks like Fix It. Happy Birthday is probably my favorite song on the album, and one of my favorite songs by him in recent years, and Stop Playing With My Heart is too catchy to ignore.
IV is in many ways, the logical progression from 2003's Rock and Roll (which Adams has written, claiming it was written just because Lost Highway demanded a happy, marketable album from him.) It also has this particularly interesting aesthetic, where the song just switches gears. This happens on Numbers for example, which is a punk-inspired rock, and after going pretty fast it switches up when Adams repeats "numbers numbers numbers," and on Star Wars he does something similar, starting out kinda poppy and loose it gets sort of 80s when he starts repeating the, again, title line about star wars.
This album references Adams love of metal, punk, 80s Brit pop, as well as indie bands from the Sonic Youth to the Strokes (fun fact: Adams recorded a cover of Is This It on a banjo on drugs. I so want to hear it.) However, while the album is diverse it does get repetitive. Unlike Cold Roses, the same instruments and tones were used for the most part, as a result it's hard to get through this in one sitting without everything blending together. The demo versions of some of these songs are almost stronger, just because it's Adams with an acoustic guitar which would give the album a level of versatility, from a sonic/aesthetic perspective not so much a songwriting perspective that is absent.
Ultimately, this isn't Ryan Adams best album. However, it has some of the best fucking songs he's ever done, and it's so much more fun then anything that's came before it. This album is a testament to the talent that is Ryan Adams - and also a testament to his longing for a girl with lasers and mirrors for eyes.