by Jeff Fiedler
Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.
On a Day Like Today (1998, A&M)
Adams’ days as a regular presence on the singles charts were unfortunately long past him by the release of this album (his most recent – and, sadly, apparently his final – Top 40 hit is 1996’s “I Finally Found Someone,” a duet with Barbra Streisand from the film The Mirror Has Two Faces), but this album – Adams’s most underrated – might actually be his most tasteful outing of the ‘90s, if not the best. Replacing “Mutt” Lange as producer with Bob Rock (Metallica, The Cult, Michael Buble), with some added assistance from Phil Thornalley (best known for his work with Natalie Imbruglia), Adams makes a nice transition from the Def Leppard-like arena-rock of his Lange-produced albums into a more restrained brand of adult-contemporary rock that just seems like a softer and more mature version of the kind of winning melodic rock Adams was penning back in the mid-‘80s. It’s never as muscular in its arrangements and production as Reckless or Cuts Like a Knife, so rock purists might not be able to appreciate the turn towards soft-rock territory, but the songs themselves sound like those Adams used to write back in the mid-‘80s, and it’s refreshing to hear Adams once again sounding like his old self rather than just trying to emulate AC/DC or Def Leppard. The album bombed in the U.S., sadly, so hardly anyone on these shores heard these songs, but adult-contemporary stations really should have latched onto this disc. The wistful pop of “Cloud Number Nine” might be the catchiest song Adams has penned in a decade, while the acoustic rock of “When You’re Gone” (a surprisingly excellent duet with Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm) is nearly every bit as hooky and fun to sing along to as “Cloud Number Nine.” The title cut and “Inside Out” are standouts as well.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002, A&M)
Usually credited as being part of his official studio discography, this disc is a real anomaly in Adams’ catalog: it’s a soundtrack to an animated full-length film, for starters, making it comparable to Elton John’s soundtrack for The Lion King or Phil Collins’ for Tarzan. But, while Bryan does sing more songs here than Elton did on The Lion King, the album is not entirely his, either, and roughly a third of it is devoted to incidental film score music from Hans Zimmer, so it’s hard to truly call this a proper Bryan Adams album. Adams has composed songs for soundtracks before, of course – A Night in Heaven, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Don Juan de Marco, and the oft-forgotten The Three Musketeers (when was the last time you heard the Adams/Sting/Rod Stewart duet “All for Love”?), to name the most notable – but this is his first time providing the majority of a soundtrack, and, as such, it’s not bad, and songs like “Here I Am,” “Get Off My Back,” and “Brothers Under the Sun” are inspired and quite pleasant indeed. But the oddball nature of this album means that it’s an easy disc to forget about, appealing though the music is, and while longtime Adams devotees will certainly find this album enjoyable, more casual fans can safely skip this one.
Room Service (2005, Mercury)
Arguably his weakest album to date (and one that Mercury waited to release in the U.S. over a full year after it was released everywhere else), Adams thankfully doesn’t deviate much from his winning formula here, so it at least sounds exactly like you hope it might, but the songs themselves just aren’t anywhere near as strong or as immediately catchy as Adams’ usual material, and cuts like the ballad (and “Mutt” Lange co-write) “Flying” and “Why Do You Have to Be So Hard to Love” are dull and clichéd enough to give ammunition to critics who unfairly accuse Adams of being a one-trick-pony. “Nowhere Fast,” “Not Romeo, Not Juliet,” “Right Back Where I Started From,” and “This Side of Paradise” are a bit better, if still not up to Adams’ usual high standard, but the rocker “Open Road” (which failed to reach the Hot 100 but received a lot of exposure through its use on ESPN programming) and “She’s a Little Too Good for Me” have winning hooks and help to keep the album from being completely forgettable.
11 (2008, Polydor)
A slightly schizophrenic album, this was originally conceived as an acoustic affair before Adams had a change of heart, which results in a very weird dynamic: Adams is noticeably singing many of these tracks in a somewhat uncharacteristically reserved and off-hand manner for one of his studio affairs, as if he were cutting an “unplugged” disc or, worse, laying down a guide vocal, but the arrangements and production of most of the cuts are fairly standard for a Bryan Adams disc, and Adams consequently ends up sounding a bit too dispassionate. As for the songs themselves, though, Adams seems more inspired here than he did on Room Service, and the songs are more immediately catchy this time, particularly the fabulous “She’s Got a Way,” “I Thought I’d Seen Everything,” “Oxygen,” “Somethin’ to Believe In” and, best of all, the album-closing chilling acoustic balladry of “Walk on By,” Bryan’s best song since “Cloud Number Nine” and one that sounds so amazing performed in this stark a fashion that it makes you wonder how much better the album might have been had they kept this disc an all-acoustic affair. It may be a flawed disc, but it’s a promising step back in the right direction, and this is his most solid effort since On a Day Like Today.
Tracks of My Years (2014, Verve)
An almost entirely covers-oriented affair, Adams has admitted in interviews that he was forced into making this album by his label and that he didn’t terribly enjoy making it, but – and give credit for this to producer David Foster – you can’t really tell that by listening to this. While none of the covers here exactly rivals the original, most of them are perfectly pleasant, particularly his readings of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” the Association’s “Never My Love,” the Beatles’ “Any Time at All,” and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” The album only falters when Adams tries something just a little too heavily R&B-oriented, such as Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” or the Manhattans’ “Kiss and Say Goodbye.” There’s also an excellent new original here called “She Knows Me” that doesn’t exactly fit in with the concept of the package but provides the album’s best moment. That song aside, this is pretty much an unnecessary disc and one that’s really only vital for diehard fans and collectors, but it’s more appealing than Adams himself probably believes it is.
Get Up (2015, Universal)
Adams’ post-‘90s work has been spotty, to say the least, but you have to admire his resilience and ability to bounce back; every studio album of new original material he’s made since Room Service has been a big leap back forward from its respective predecessor, and Adams is nearly at peak form again with this disc. Easily his finest album in well over a decade, this inspired outing finds Adams working with one of the more unlikely producers you might ever think to pair him up with, ELO’s Jeff Lynne (who, of course, has helmed such well-received albums as the late Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open.) The match proves to be quite inspired, though, and Adams seems quite reenergized here. Teaming up once again with his old songwriting partner, Jim Vallance (who co-writes all but one cut here), the two men do a nice job of creating new material that remains right in Adams’ comfort zone as a rocker while simultaneously evoking the spirit and sound of ELO, as they do on cuts like the ballad “We Did It All,” the deliriously fun, handclap-laden “That’s Rock and Roll,” and the wildly catchy Lynne co-write “Do What Ya Gotta Do.” There are other fun cuts here as well, including the early-Beatles-like “Don’t Even Try” and, best of all, the album-opening spirited rockabilly of “You Belong to Me,” Adams’ finest single since the ‘90s. The album’s lone fault is that it’s simply too short, its nine songs lasting a total of only twenty-three minutes, with four completely unnecessary acoustic versions added as bonus cuts to pad the disc out to thirty-six minutes; if you simply took away the acoustic versions and replaced them with two or three more songs, this album would have been pretty much perfect.
There are two single-disc Adams hits packages to choose from, and they both have their flaws. 1993’s So Far So Good boasts more material from his ‘80s heyday, but it only covers his career through 1993 and it also bizarrely includes “Kids Wanna Rock” while leaving off Top 40 hits like “One Night Love Affair,” “Hearts on Fire,” “Victim of Love,” “Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven,” and “There Will Never Be Another Tonight.” 1999’s The Best of Me leaves out a lot of prime ‘80s material (“Cuts Like a Knife,” “Heaven,” “Straight from the Heart,” and “Heat of the Night” are some of the more egregious omissions here), but it also covers more of his career, which means that post-So Far So Good hits like the Adams/Sting/Rod Stewart duet “All for Love” is here, as is “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” and “Let’s Make a Night to Remember.” The Best of Me also includes some wildly underrated late-‘90s material, including “Back to You” (previously only available on MTV Unplugged) and all the best songs from the sadly-overlooked On a Day Like Today, in addition to including a new song called “The Best of Me” that is as infectious a song as Adams has ever written and ranks among Adams’ most criminally-overlooked singles. If you’re willing to spring for a double-disc, go for the 2005 package Anthology; it includes nearly all of Adams’ 22 Top 40 hits with the exception of “Victim of Love,” “Do I Have to Say the Words,” and “I Finally Found Someone,” while doing a nice job of picking highlights from his newer and more overlooked albums. (“The Best of Me,” “Back to You,” and “Cloud Number Nine” are all thankfully included.)
It’s not representative of a typical Bryan Adams concert (Live! Live! Live! is the best place to go for that), but the most fun and eye-opening of his many live packages has to be 1997’s delightful MTV Unplugged. It’s fairly intriguing to hear the arena-rocker in an acoustic and laid-back setting, and songs like “Cuts Like a Knife” and “Summer of ‘69” work surprisingly well in stripped-down fashion. Adams also offers up some new songs here, including the infectiously catchy sunny pop of “Back to You,” which is easily one of Adams’ greatest singles of the ‘90s and should not be missed.
For you vinyl collectors out there, Adams has a few 45s worth hunting down. The 1985 single “Christmas Time,” which you’ve no doubt heard on the radio many times during the holiday season (“Something about Christmas time that makes you wish it was Christmas everyday …”), can be found on a few various-artists holiday compilations, but it was first made available on a green-vinyl 45 – with “Reggae Christmas” as the flip side – packaged in a fittingly holiday-evoking picture sleeve. Adams’ very first single as a solo artist has also never been made available on LP or CD and remains only available in single form on A&M, both 45 and twelve-inch; 1979’s “Let Me Take You Dancing” (b/w “Don’t Turn Me Away”) is completely atypical of his later music, finding Adams (who sounds higher than normal here, the result of the remixer tweaking the cut to speed up the tempo) singing against a heavy disco backdrop. Sure, Adams sounds slightly ridiculous here, but it’s just so fascinating to listen to, and the song itself so charming (why Bryan’s never re-recorded it as a more rock-oriented song, I have no idea; rock this thing up, and have it segue into “She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancing,” and you’d have yourself one very audience-pleasing medley) that it’s worth trying to dig up a copy, tough find though it is.