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Great country ballads, little else
on 26 September 2002
On the album 'Faithless Street', Ryan confesses that he "started this damn country band - 'cos punk rock is too hard to sing". Demolition is confirmation of this fact.
When I play Whiskeytown records now, I am drawn to the songs that have Ryan wearing his heart on his sleeve, backed by a more traditional country/bluesy/folky sound. On Stranger's Almanac, I play 'Avenues', 'Houses On The Hill', 'Everything I Do', and 'Somebody Remembers The Rose' - and to me, they are head and shoulders above the rest of the album because everything clicks together in a way that the 'rock' tunes don't. On Pneumonia, 'Don't Wanna Know Why', 'Jacksonvile Skyline', 'Reasons to Lie', 'Under Your Breath', and 'What The Devil Wanted' again all stand out for me. Up close, personal, simplistic but beautifully delivered songs.
Heartbreaker is Ryan's magnum opus purely because he's playing to his strengths. Guitar, vocals, minimum of overdubs, just the stripped-down beauty of a great voice singing great songs. That's all you need. This is where Gold, with the exception of 'La Cienaga' and 'Wildflowers', fails me. Much of it is overblown and recycled rock bombast without a convincing delivery.
Bottom line - I don't think Ryan can rock. I don't believe him when he has an electric six-string in his hand. I find his "rock" songs mediocre, tiresome, unconvincing and insincere. I haven't heard too many artists do a guitar and vocal ballad as well as Ryan Adams - this is high praise. I have however heard countless artists pull off a better 'rock and roll animal' persona than Ryan.
All this sums up my feelings about Demolition. Dear Chicago is phenomenally good, right up there with anything he's done in terms of quality and the way it moves me by just listening to it. If this is Ryan's template going forward, he won't go far wrong. I find the rock songs on this album amateurish and tiresome. Which makes me wonder if we shouldn't start talking about two Ryan Adams - one, the middle of the road rock and roll wannabe, and two, the fantastically gifted balladeer that has the priceless gift to touch somebody with a simple song beautifully sung in his 'drunken, bluesy whisper'.
All of which leads me to ask - will the real Ryan Adams please stand up?