Sunday, March 16, 2014

Love Is Hell - Ryan Adams - 2004

Ryan Adams and I haven't always seen eye to eye, which I think is a fair thing for almost anyone to say of his music, because the guy tends to be all over the map. Sometimes he's alternative country, sometimes he's indie garage rock, sometimes, like on "Love Is Hell," the album I'm talking about today, he's doing a fine impression of the sort of gloom rock albums that England was putting out in the 80's and 90's.

Adams started with the band Whiskeytown, and after that band had run its course, he started making independent albums. Everyone has their own favorite, with a lot of people saying "Gold" if for no other reason than it has the song "New York, New York" on it, which became very popular post 9/11. His more recent stuff has drifted back towards the alt-country stuff he'd been doing before, although he still gets the rock out now and again. He's supposedly working on a new album now, and it's anyone's guess what mode that'll find him in. He's gone through phases of ridiculous prolifically charged songwriting tears, but he's slowed down in recent years. (Maybe he could start releasing some of that back catalog, like the unreleased "The Suicide Handbook.")

But at the beginning of the last decade, he was interested in capturing the spirit of the songs of the rain. There were elements of country, certainly, but it wasn't the biggest influence. The sounds were big, reverb-y and filled with a sorrowful whisper, layers with acoustic guitars and the occasional soft spoken electric. It felt somewhere between a Tom Petty record and The Jesus And Mary Chain's "Darklands" album. The record label apparently didn't even want to release it, and in a lot of cases, you'll still it listed as two EPs.

"English Girls Approximately" is certainly one of the songs I've listened to the most, because it's bluesy without being too regretful. It has a certain world-weary tone to it, almost resigned to his fate. "Said you didn't love me, it was right on time, I was just about to tell you that I care alright / Said you didn't love me, didn't want a thing, English girls can be so mean..." That is a man who's seen some rough times in his life. And yet, the guitar carries on, and you get the feeling that this guy is still somewhat optimistic in the face of all of this. It's almost as if he's shaking his head and has a smirked, can-you-believe-this-shit smile on his face.

Of course, the song from this album that put him on the radar of so many people was his cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall." Whatever you might think of that original, there's no denying that Adams' cover is brilliant and in a completely different track. Even Noel Gallagher, the song's original writer, has said that he loves Ryan Adams' version of the song. I couldn't get an embedded studio version on Youtube, so the live version above will give you an idea of what to expect from it.

"Shadowlands" has always been my favorite track from the album, though, and one of my utter favorite songs Adams has ever recorded. It opens with a plaintive piano and Adams' voice somewhat muted and damped, as if he's singing from beneath a shroud. And eventually you start to hear little flits of other sound. And then the muting fades and Adams' voice becomes warmer, softer. And then the strings come in. And then the tracer lines of an electric guitar waking up from a slumber. Then the drums kick in, and the song blossoms into itself, as a lead electric guitar stumbles up into the foreground, maybe a little hungover, but happy to see the dawn of the new morning, stretching and waking to the coming day.

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