Two nights ago, I got the chance to venture out into the world. My destination? The PRYZM nightclub in Kingston. The reason? One of two exclusive performances Bryan Adams was giving that day, in promotion of his new album, So Happy It Hurts, which is to be released tomorrow (March 11th). All made possible by independent record shop, Banquet Records.
Unlike any kind of show he’s done before, Canadian-born Adams was playing all twelve tracks from the upcoming album – his fifteenth studio release to date – as well as taking questions from the audience throughout. It was to be something special, intimate, the kind of thing curated for real fans, young and old. And as I joined several hundred others (in a venue smaller than most a musician of his calibre is used to), I couldn’t believe I was about to see one of my idols. In the flesh. Up close.
Adams is currently embarking on a European tour to promote the record, with a stop at the O2 in London scheduled for May. In fact, stadiums and arenas are more familiar territory for the chart veteran. A man who holds the record for the longest-reigning number one single in the UK (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’ which topped the chat for sixteen weeks).
The album itself sounds immense. There’s a common belief that the older a rock musician gets, the more their music mellows. And generally, that holds true. In Adams’ case, it also does, to be fair. You’d be hard pressed to find another ‘Summer of ‘69’ or ‘Run to You’ in his most recent releases. But he was always pop rock, in his defence, and he can muster that old, six-string swagger when the need arises.
The gig’s opener – and the introduction to side two of the record – ‘Kick Ass’ packs just that. A great song about wanting ‘kick ass, rocking music’, it’s Adams at his most informal; unwound, unhinged and plugged in. Though a solo performance, the help of a backing track made for something as electrifying as the full thing, and in seconds you could see the crowd chanting and banging their heads.
The lead single came next, the title track itself. ‘So Happy It Hurts’ is the heartiest slice of pent-up pop rock Adams could hope of delivering, and particularly defiant amongst a backdrop of pandemic and war. Yet somehow, not a word nor a chord felt out of place. It was also a testament to the remarkable endurance of the man’s vocal ability. Close your eyes at a Bryan Adams gig, and you could swear you were listening to a bootleg from the ‘80s – he sounds just as vibrant. And you can tell why, given how optimistic he’s remained in the past few years.
But it wasn’t easy. As he explained in response to an question from the audience, this was Adams’ ‘lockdown record’, created at a time when he was certain gigs would never happen again. ‘When you’re facing death, you need to write’ – and he’s not exaggerating. He suffered coronavirus himself, and when times were darkest, he turned to scraps of paper, napkins, coasters; any surface with notes and ideas on. And with a little bit of help from songwriters like Jim Vallance (a longtime co-songwriter of Adams’) and Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange, he put to work almost exclusively recording the new album.
‘Never Gonna Rain’ is just as outwardly jubilant in its nature, with ‘On the Road’ packing the pedal-down, roof-down simplicity of the best rock anthems. Adams explained the song was actually commissioned by tyre company Pirelli – a company he recently shot the annual calendar for, too – and it’s a real burner.
To be blunt, the whole album was amazing to hear, but highlights included ‘Just About Gone’ – a song Adams revealed was the first from the album to be written; a track that was kicking around for ten years before finally getting nailed down in the studio – and ‘I’ve Been Looking For You’, a rockabilly number that could have been an outtake from the Get Up sessions, but a reject from the soundtrack for Pretty Woman: The Musical, the soundtrack for which was written and recorded by Adams and Vallance.
So Happy It Hurts is an album about love, certainly – many of the tracks are about getting over a breakup or struggling to find the words for a love that’s beautiful – but chiefly? It’s about happiness. An assumption that could be gleaned from the title alone, but a theme that’s fully explored throughout the twelve-song tracklist. As Adams explained onstage, he wanted to write songs that people could identify with; songs that move himself, but would move others, too.
The music itself lasted for around forty minutes – and they were some of the best of my life, with battering backbeats and thunderous guitar. But just as masterful Adams proved with an instrument in his hand, his natural charisma won over the crowds the minute he opened his mouth. Every answer was articulate – humorous but remaining down-to-earth throughout. I’m struggling to process that I saw Bryan Adams in person. Part of that comes down to sheer awe, I confess, but a lot of it is just how real the man seemed. Time has kept him humble.
In response to a question about a time the muse struck him instantly, Adams confirmed that perhaps his biggest hit, ‘Everything I Do…’ was written in just forty-five minutes. ‘I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty good forty-five minutes to me,’ he joked.
When asked about his favourite songwriters, Adams surprised the older folks of the crowd, opting for Chris Martin of Coldplay, as well as the Weeknd – an artist Adams also admitted to perhaps most being envious of, ‘I listen to his songs and I just think, damn it, I wish I could have written that!’.
But he also admitted the best singer he’s had the pleasure of dueting with was undoubtedly Tina Turner – with whom he recorded Reckless’ definitive ‘It’s Only Love’. Adams explained that the best support act he ever had was Keith Urban, quipping, ‘He never really did much after that. We tried.’
It was clear throughout, the adoration Adams has for this new album. Does he kind of have to say how much he loves So Happy It Hurts? Obviously. But it was palpable how much relief he had that it was finally being unveiled to the world. In Adams’ own words, it’s an album that was ready for release a year ago – but due to the backlog problems at vinyl plants around the world, he had to wait for the grand event. When finally he held the record in his hands that same day, he said it was ‘like Christmas’, with a smile as big as a welcome mat.
And in case you’re wondering what Bryan’s favourite album is – not including this one – there’s no surprise that 1984’s Reckless is ‘obviously, pretty up there’. His number one pick, though? 2015’s Get Up – ‘I got to work with Jeff Lynne, and I just learnt so many things I didn’t know before.
What’s that saying? You can’t teach a dog… new tricks? Not true!’
The best piece of advice he’s ever been given? ‘Don’t sign it’.
His rider for that gig? What was waiting for him backstage? ‘A few apples… and some tea’ (Even Adams was somewhat perplexed at asking a world-famous musician what they were peckish for after the set)
‘What’s the best view in Vancouver?’ someone from the audience asked. Adams paused a moment, ‘…Man, my mind went straight to the gutter,’ before admitting probably the mountain view from his home. And if anyone’s a stickler for visual detail, it’s Bryan. As keen as he is on international touring, he’s a dedicated photographer, revealing that he recently worked with German metal outfit, Rammstein, on something that should be coming out in ‘the next few months’. He also chose the group’s signature, ‘Du hast’ as his favourite heavy metal track.
And it’s clear that, poppy as you might think Adams’ has become, he’s a fan of the fast and the frantic. He explained how one of the happiest accidents of his life was discovering rock band, Elf, when they were supporting a gig he went to – a group fronted by the legendary Ronnie James Dio. With his leather jacket, slick-backed hair and backstage anecdotes, there’s no denying Bryan Adams is still the image of bad boy rock ‘n roll.
Adams also reminisced about 1991-1993’s Waking Up the Neighbours tour (‘Waking Up the World’), commenting that he wanted the band to ‘backpack round the world’, visiting countries that hadn’t seen rock concerts before, like Turkey, Egypt, Vietnam and Pakistan – the country in which the hotel he stayed in was blown up two weeks after his appearance. And Adams clearly doesn’t plan on hanging up his guitar anytime soon.
In case you plan on seeing Bryan for yourself on his current European tour, he’s confirmed that the record’s four singles will be getting a chance to shine on the setlist, with ‘Kick Ass’ as the opener. In response to what his favourite song to play onstage was, he put forward classic staple, ‘Run to You’ – as my personal favourite from across his entire career, I have to concur.
I heartily recommend seeing Adams this spring if you get the chance. Past sixty years on this planet, he rocks like he’s just put out ‘Summer of ‘69’ – a song he re-iterated was different from the actual summer of 1969, ‘more a metaphor for… yeah’. And if a brand-new album and a full tour isn’t enough for you, he divulged that he has a new Christmas track in the works, and a potential collection of songs which ‘slipped through the cracks’ over time. Given how amazing 2014’s expanded Reckless re-issue was, I froth at the thought of more early takes, demos and outtakes.
So there, Bryan’s back, after the turmoil and tumult of lockdown, and he’s here to bring rock to the world once more. Thank God. Buy his new album, see him live, I implore you – he’s less a flickering candle in his waning years and more a blazing inferno, defiant to the last.
Oh, and, for those of you lucky enough to attend his Sheffield Polytechnic gig in ’83, Adams described it as ‘fucking great’ – one of the best shows in England he’s ever done. My sympathies, however, to those who caught him the next night at the Dominion Theatre in London –
A gig he described, poetically, as ‘shit’.
Order Bryan’s new album here: https://bryanadams.lnk.to/SoHappyItHurtsAlbum
Check out his upcoming tour dates here: https://www.bryanadams.com/tours/