Saturday, June 17, 2006

In Case You Forgot: Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker

"When I'm lonely/ she makes me feel nice." For an artist whose pretentiousness has a habit of overshadowing his music, this line, which nicely summarizes Heartbreaker as a whole, is pretty damned earnest. This music doesn't have grandiose ambitions and it doesn't try to be something it's not. It is a stark expression of one of the most universal feelings in human experience - heartbreak. If an artist can't bring anything new to the table, they better be able to do the old things well. Adams is not the first person to write a record like this, but what he lacks in originality he made up for in execution - this is probably the best sad bastard album ever made. Painfully sorrowful and downtrodden yet never melodramatic, Heartbreaker appeals to the self-destructive person in all of us. This is a lonely drunk's folk symphony. I could spend hours typing out the startlingly simple one-liners in this album that carry more emotional weight than most whole songs, but I'll let you guys discover those gems yourself. Suffice it to say that while lines like "I just want to die without you" and "Oh, why do they leave" may sound painfully emo on paper, Adams' delivery leaves no doubt that he means what he says. Like many classics, the album sounds raw and unrehearsed. While there are absolutely gorgeous moments on the album, the Dylan-esque production style gives the music extremely rough edges. There are very few production tricks - this is a singer/songwriter in the classic mold simply throwing his heart at a tape recorder. Painfully honest and cathartic, Heartbreaker is a whiskey-soaked (that phrase is overused, but I can't think of a better way to put it) testament to the heartbroken kid in all of us.

For all Pitchfork's downfalls as a music journalism web site, Steven Byrd said it better than I ever could in his review of this album (last paragraph especially):
Singing in a voice that's just filthy with despair, Adams delivers his first solo album with the practiced swagger and genuine hurt of a veteran country crooner. A startling 15-song masterpiece, Heartbreaker is a drinker's album, an ode to sadness that deals exclusively with all the dark and dirty corners of the human heart. It's music written in the language of loneliness, depression, and, above all, heartbreak, in all its varied forms. And it makes perfect sense that this should be Adams' first solo album, as-- aside from a couple of notable collaborations-- the material here is far too personal and focused to have been produced by anything but one man with one soul.

Heartbreaker shows Ryan Adams sweeping all of the cliches of mass- produced, "new country" under the rug and tapping into everything that makes genuine country music unique and beautiful: raw emotion, deep groove and clever storytelling. There are no simple, melodramatic, commercial-ready ballads here; the music is too deeply rooted in old-school country music, folk-rock songs and bluegrass jams to produce anything that predictable. With that musical philosophy firmly in place, it stands to reason that each track on the album is a gem, showcasing Adams' considerable songwriting ability and a way with words that most musicians would sell their spines to possess.

The record begins with the misleadingly upbeat "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)," a swinging bluegrass number that wouldn't sound out of place in a honky-tonk. But Adams gets to the business of bringing us down soon enough. When Adams sings, "I just want to die without you," on "Call Me on Your Way Back Home," orphans run out into the street and weep. For "Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)," Adams calls on the patron saints of sparse folk music and lyrical tomfoolery while channeling the troubadour vocals of early Bob Dylan to produce one of Heartbreaker's lighter, but better, tracks. Still, even this stylistic similarity is superficial, as the blood- and-guts of the song are all his own.

Adams continues his winning streak by making great use of a rare cameo by country-rock legend Emmylou Harris on "Oh My Sweet Carolina," as Harris' trademark falsetto blends beautifully with Adams' own rich vocals for a simple, affecting song about one man's longing to return home. "Come Pick Me Up," a track about a man struggling with a bad relationship and pining for his cheating girlfriend weighs in as the album's most affecting moment. Gluing crushing lyrics to undeniably catchy drum riffs, greasy guitar work and soulful harmonica playing, the song is five minutes and thirteen seconds of damn near perfect music.

There's nothing terribly complex or tricky about Heartbreaker. In fact, it's probably one of the simplest, most straightforward albums you'll hear all year. But this album wasn't written to be complex. It isn't electronica designed to tickle your cerebral cortex. It isn't music to figure out. It's music to feel to. It's music to drink alone to. And it's sadder than witnessing your grandmother's burial.

Heartbreaker is the soundtrack to the last ten minutes of any relationship you've ever watched crumble before your eyes. It's music for the ruined romantic in all of us. Usually, that little romantic simply sits quietly, tearfully watching everything disappear without so much as a single complaint. But on Heartbreaker, Ryan Adams has not only convinced that voice to speak, he's taught it to sing. The result is an album of astonishing musical proficiency, complete honesty and severe beauty.
While it's a completely different album, I have no problem placing Heartbreaker next to Radiohead's Kid A and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as one of the best albums to come out this decade. The tracks that I used to think were expendable (To Be The One, Damn Sam, etc.) are now some of my favorites. While Adams' other work is hit or miss, Heartbreaker is about as close to perfect as an album can get.

Ryan Adams- Come Pick Me Up

Ryan Adams- In My Time of Need


At 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caleb, your unceasing hardon for everything Ryan Adams has approached the same level as Hitler's unquenchable thirst for baking jewish people. Seriously, Ryan Adams is not that good. He cannot even hold a candle to other great songwriters or musicians that some people, including you, consistently group him with. I would take Jeff Tweedy, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and a host of others over him as far as songwriting is concerned. His musical arrangements remind of the muddled sounds you hear while riding in an elevator and his voice, while fueled by cigarettes and alcohol, is never, EVER going to be as cool or as melodic as countless other folk/rock singers. This obsession, nee, worship of Ryan Adams by all supposed music critics and experts only furthers the myth that he is actually any good at making music. It doesn't help him any when he has thousands upon thousands of "music experts" constantly licking his taint and praising every passing of wind from his unholy and surely disease-ridden sphincter. Surely this must explain his demeanor, that of a petulant little child, but with a cocaine addiction and a bitchiness rivalled only by Elton John and other extremely flamboyant primadonnas (not that Elton John is flamboyant or anything). Unfortunately, Ryan Adams will continue to make worthless and insignificant music until he is discovered dead and bloated after some massive drug binge. People will praise his body of work and adore and admire him much like people did when Eliot Smith died. The difference there being that Smith was a brilliant and talented artist who actually created meaningful and inspirational music. Basically, what I am saying is that you need to put a stop to this. And fast. Its like you've been to some kind of of Ryan Adams landmark forum brainwashing workshop or something.


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