catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 3 :: 2002.10.11 — 2002.10.24


Ryan Adams' reign as the bummer king

Calling Ryan Adams prolific is almost an understatement. Joe Levy of Rolling Stone went so far as to say, “[He] seems to come back from every trip to the bathroom with a new song.” So it isn’t too surprising that Adams’ new album, Demolition, is actually a collection of demos culled from over four albums worth of prospective material recorded during five separate recording sessions over the course of the last year.

Adams is the former frontman of alt-country pioneers, Whiskeytown. The band broke up right around the time Adams released his first solo album, Heartbreaker, a stark folk album of stunning melancholic beauty. His follow-up, Gold, was released shortly after 9/11 and Adams received a heap of unexpected peripheral media attention because of Gold’s artwork (Adams in front of an American flag) and its first single, “New York, New York.” The album delved into Adams’ pop influences, though, and many fans thought he was selling out to fame.

Demolition returns Adams solidly into the realm of country music. In between the opening ascending chord and the last orchestral swell, it’s difficult to remember that these are demos, but the album never sounds as over-produced as Gold sometimes did. Adams delivers his usual array of wonderfully heart-wrenching ballads (“Cry on Demand,” “You Will Always Be the Same”), country romps (“Chin Up, Cheer Up”) and straight-forward rockers (“Nuclear,” “Gimme a Sign”), but he also includes an experimental song (for him, anyway) very reminiscent of Yo La Tengo (“Jesus, [Don’t Touch My Baby]”). He continues to wear his influences on his sleeve, and “Starting to Hurt” is an obvious ode to the 80s.

Once again, he tackles the traditional alt-country topics of loss and love, adeptly handling yearning melodies with nuance and charm. Several tracks are stripped down to bare acoustic guitar and voice arrangements, allowing Adams to express the emotional tension of the songs through his voice. For example, “She Wants to Play Hearts,” a song about missing someone from a broken relationship, would not be nearly as affecting as it is if more instrumentation were added. Other tracks, such as “Gimme a Sign,” show Adams’ talent to handle pure rock songs with equal merit.

Adams’ said that some of these songs “might have been the follow-up to Heartbreaker, but I didn’t want to be the bummer king, so I made Gold instead. Now I want to be the bummer king again, because someone’s got to do it.” Well, he’s succeeded admirably. Adams’ music is certainly worth a look for the simple value of his songwriting, from melody to lyric. If you’ve already heard some of Ryan Adams’ other work, I would definitely recommend this disc. If you haven’t, I’d recommend checking out Heartbreaker first.

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