After a career filled with reckless stylistic shifts and random left turns, Ryan Adams made his strangest move yet in 2009 when he abruptly announced that he was going on hiatus and settling down with former teen-pop star Mandy Moore. Fortunately, Adams couldn’t stay domesticated for long: Earlier this year, he released the science-fiction prog-metal concept record Orion, and now he’s unearthed III/IV, a double album recorded in 2007 with stalwart backing band The Cardinals, and revolving around “the ’80s, ninjas, cigarettes, sex, and pizza.” The first item on that list is the most discernable on III/IV, with Adams indulging his jones for the driving arena-rock ear-candy that distinguished his underrated 2003 solo record, Rock N Roll,and 2008’s Cardinology.
It’s a little disappointing coming from parties most celebrated for the moonlit country-rock of 2005’s Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights, and 2007’s Easy Tiger, which came out of the same sessions as III/IV. But while Adams comes off like a prodigiously talented melodicist coasting on his ability to sneeze out hooks whenever he steps into the studio, there are enough pleasures on III/IV to satisfy fans desperate for new product. “Stop Playing With My Heart” is no less pleasing for sounding tossed-off, and the jaggedly jangling “Ultraviolet Light” finds Adams solidly in the “Morrissey fronting U2” mode of Love Is Hell. It’s the weird curveballs like the bouncy pop-punk of “Star Wars” and the wannabe metal gem “Icebreaker” that really make III/IV an entertaining, albeit trifling, stopgap; hopefully, Adams will soon be back on a schedule where records like this are mere rest-stops on the way to creating more substantial sounds.