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Listening is Worse
Ryan Adams: Love Is Hell, Pt. 1
Lost Highway, 2003
Ryan Adams: Love Is Hell, Pt. 2
Lost Highway, 2003
Posted: March 15,
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,
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
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