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Listening is Worse

  Ryan Adams: Love Is Hell, Pt. 1


Lost Highway, 2003

Rating: 2.5



Ryan Adams: Love Is Hell, Pt. 2

Lost Highway, 2003

Rating: 2.0



Posted: March 15, 2004

By Laurence Station

Being hyper-prolific and consistently brilliant in terms of songwriting are usually musically exclusive terms; Bob Dylan is the exception that proves the rule. Case in point: Ryan Adams has been astonishingly prolific since his departure from alt-country mavens Whiskeytown. Aside from official releases (Heartbreaker, Gold, Demolition and Rock N Roll), there are crates of unreleased recordings (48 Hours, The Suicide Handbook), an alleged song-for-song rehashing of the Strokes' Is This It, and innumerable fragments, dashed-off concepts, and mislaid paeans to love and loss scattered along the Lonely Hearts Highway stretching from New York to L.A. Adams has proven more than capable of penning wonderful songs (most of Heartbreaker and a few sparkling gems on Gold). Unfortunately, he's a runaway freight train of creativity, with no one in the brake room to slow down his torrent of hangdog, peculiarly American balladry.

Adams' record label famously rejected Love Is Hell, declaring that the material was too downbeat, and he was urged to come up with something more commercially viable. In a flash, the fun, superficial Rock N Roll materialized. But that just made people curious about the unreleased Love Is Hell sessions. Obviously, the bean counters at Lost Highway couldn't ignore such interest and, inexplicably, subdivided the album into a pair of EPs. Thus, for roughly the cost of one CD's worth of material, Lost Highway had to print two sets of liner notes to fill a pair of CD cases (not to mention the production overhead for pressing the deluxe gatefold vinyl version that contained all the tracks). But that's not the most baffling thing about Love Is Hell's journey from Adams' mind to our ears. What confounds all reasoning is how such poor material could be peddled to his eager fan base. The songs comprising both parts of Love Is Hell constitute the worst songwriting by Adams ever stamped with a price tag.

Of the fifteen tracks, there's one worthy edition to his catalog. "This House Is Not for Sale" possesses a memorable hook and passionate delivery. Oh, the first four songs on Part 1, including the rocking "House," are tolerable. But it's all downhill from there. Adams covers the Oasis hit "Wonderwall" with a noncommittal disinterest that neither adds to nor subtracts from the original, and thus begs the question: Why bother? "The Shadowlands" offers the cringe-worthy simile "Because she's like a salesman / Who just couldn't make a sale." "Avalanche" tritely proclaims "When it's over / And it's over," and struggles mightily to find a suitable rhyme for its title ("She falls apart in the avalanche / Fades out like a dance").

As tough a slog as the backend of Part 1 is, it's Part 2 that truly reveals just how rushed, haphazard and ill-formed Adams' stab at morose mope-rock is. "My Blue Manhattan" sports third-rate, '70s-period Tom Waits lyrics ("My blue Manhattan / She curses with her sailor's mouth / And fire and rain in the streets"). Mostly, the lyrics are either too pedestrian ("True love ain't that hard to find / Not that you will ever know") or just plain terrible ("Red suitcase full of clothes / Washed up on the shore of memories").

Ryan Adams is capable of far better than this. Perhaps if he focuses his prodigious energies on a handful of songs rather than first-drafting his way through hundreds at a stretch his catalog might be more substantial than a promising debut and progressively downhill regression ever since. Love Is Hell should have been forced to languish in purgatory.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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