When people think “Bryan Adams” it’s easy to visualize the rock swagger or call to mind the many, many power ballads that have dominated wedding receptions from the mid-1980s on. But Adams is also a master of the polished poprock gem. The list of infectious hook-laden tunes is so long we couldn’t possibly recount them all here. His most recent album, 2015’s Get Up, is more proof he’s still got the knack for pumping out catchy songs. Producer Jeff Lynne does an amazing job of tweaking and sweetening the pop tinge with his signature suite of production techniques. There’s more than a little ELO flavour to tracks like “That’s Rock and Roll,” “Do What You Gotta Do,” and “Don’t Even Try,” the latter featuring a great Beatlesque guitar sound circa Beatles for Sale. Adams also gets back to his 1980s poprock roots on tracks “You Belong to Me,” “Go Down Rockin’” and “Yesterday Was Just a Dream.” But the standout track is “Brand New Day” with its driving, propulsive rhythm guitar that recaptures some of the excitement of his early to mid-1980s poprock glory days.
Listening to Get Up offered me a chance to revisit the Adams canon. Truth be told, Bryan and I had a falling out in the late 1980s. His follow up albums to Reckless moved away from the poprock hooks, either focusing on balladeering or working out some ‘rawk’ issues (see ‘swagger’). In a way it was understandable. By 1987 Adams had put out three killer albums in row but routinely would get trashed by the rock press who complained his work was clichéd and lacked authenticity. The final straw was when critics skewered him over his “Summer of ‘69” single because Adams was only 10 years old that year and could hardly have been the protagonist. What, did they think that Bowie really was an astronaut? Did they think Springsteen was the serial killer, state trooper and the guy avoiding the state trooper in those songs from Nebraska? In frustration, Adams crafted and refined his ‘rocker’ image on albums like Waking up the Neighbours and 18 till I Die. These albums were enormously popular but they didn’t really connect with me.
I had discovered Adams on a bus going downtown in Vancouver sometime in 1981. I was listening to CFOX on some strange FM-only portable radio when “Lonely Nights” came on: I was floored. I loved the shimmery lead guitar, what would become Adam’s signature crunchy rhythm guitar, and the tune. I immediately went downtown and picked up You Want It, You Got It. Side One of the album still blows me away: “Lonely Nights,” “One Good Reason,” “Don’t Look Now,” “Coming Home,” and “Fits Ya Good” – I could (and did) play it over and over. It remains my favourite Adam’s album (and my 16-year-old self did find Adam’s cover shot pretty cute). Cuts Like a Knife also had so many great tunes, though I would single out “This Time” as a pretty perfect poprock single. Reckless would be Adams’ masterpiece with nary a false move. Its key single, “Run to You,” is as good as poprock gets, a remarkable bit of songwriting, production, and arrangement. The atmospheric keyboard backdrop and ringing guitar lines alone are worth the price of the album.
I lost track of what Adams was doing around the early 1990s. Going back now, I am impressed with how much good poprock his post-1997 catalogue includes. 1998’s On a Day Like Today is particularly strong, with “How Do You Feel Tonight,” “On a Day Like Today,” and “Cloud Number 9.” But the monster single is undeniably the hooky “When You’re Gone.”
2004’s Room Service is another strong effort, with “Another East Side Story” clearly saying ‘I’m the single here’. Since then a host of other singles deserve mention: “The Best of Me,” “One World, One Flame,” “She Knows Me,” and “You’ve Been a Friend to Me.” Looking back over Adams’ canon, Ok, he’s definitely the ballad guy who likes to ‘rawk’ out, but his great talent, his authentic voice (for me), is his way with a tune. All the greats could craft a song that would get into your head and stay there – Adams has more than a few of those.