This review was first
published on CLUAS in 2001
Other albums reviewed in 2001
A review of his album 'Heartbreaker'
Ryan Adams has already presided over the creation, evolution and apparent demise of a classic band, Whiskeytown. In 1998 they released 'Stranger's Almanac' which belongs alongside 'Being There' by Wilco and 'The Sound Of Lies' by The Jayhawks as the touchstones of the American alt.country movement. He is 25 years of age and quite brilliant.
Heartbreaker was recorded during a 14 day studio stint in Nashville last year after the collapse of an intense love affair. Reminiscent of Big Star's 3rd, the emotional wounds were obviously still open and festering and, as is often the case, these feelings have been translated into something harrowing, yet beautiful. The chorus of 'Come Play With Me', the bitterest song on the album, runs "Come pick me up / Take me out / F*ck me up / Steal my records / Screw all my friends / They're all full of shit / The smile on your face / And then do it again..."
Westlife this ain't. Over acoustic picking, harmonica that dives in and out of the mix, Adams opens his heart to us. Bizarrely, the album opens with a Spinal Tap-ish studio debate over the running order of Morrissey's 'Bona Drag' before launching into the Dylanesque 'To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)'. The tone of the album recalls 'Blonde on Blonde' and played back-to-back, the two albums share the theme of young male disillusionment set to wounded blues, raw vocals and great songs.
The beatific Emmylou Harris duets on 'Oh My Sweet Carolina', recalling her heavenly partnership with Gram Parsons who is, by all accounts, Adams' hero. Alongside 'My Winding Wheel', these two mournfully melodic but damaged ballads identify feelings we have all experienced, when the world crashes in, when love is quashed. Heartbreaker represents an emotional catharsis, yet never completely shuts out the light.
One not to listen to in the dark.