I don’t know why people are calling this a collection of demos. It’s just another marketing ploy as far as I can tell. A demo implies some sort of prototype; a sketch from which to work. The songs on Demolition are polished and complete. If you’re expecting 4-track recordings with half-finished vocals and an insight into the artist at work, keep looking.
That said, Demolition stands on it’s own as a collection. Not an album, mind you as there’s no real cohesion in the tracking of this album and you can forget about any sense of an identity. It’s as schizophrenic as that guy in the dirty coat who calls you Number 3 every morning on your way to work. Maybe the Beatles and the Beach Boys (not to mention Pink Floyd) have forever ruined us on albums with themes. What happened to just having a bunch of songs? Perhaps that’s why Lost Highway and Adams decided to market this as a group of songs destined for albums never to be released rather than an ambling work of individual songs.
That’s what Demolition is. In the tradition of singles collections like the Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs, Demolition has no arc, and it doesn’t need one. This is more of a peak into Adams’ record collection as he reworks sounds, melodies and lyrical themes from all the hit makers in the hippest collections.
No fewer than three songs seem to be lifted directly from a Replacements beer-soaked set list. Cool songs all of them I might add [Yoda, is that you? – ed.]. While the country-fied stomp of lead track “Nuclear” adds a little of Adam’s charm to a tried and true sound, “Starting to Hurt” and “Gimme a Sign” are Westerberg all the way.
“Hallelujah” finds Adams in Jayhawks country with a chorus and arrangement lifted from Hollywood Town Hall. Mark Olson may be filing suit as I write this. He should.
Sure to give a nod to rock’s true elder statesman Bono, the fourth track “Desire” borrows more than its title from U2.
“She Wants to Play Hearts” is a truly heartbreaking track that would make Jeff Buckley weep…for lost royalties when he finds out Adams nicked this tune from his soggy notebook.
The feuding between Adams’ fans and Jeff Tweedy’s fans is well known in the alt.country world. Adding fuel to the fire, Adams pens “Dear Chicago” a title too similar to Wilco’s “Via Chicago” to be a coincidence, but then Adams’ masterstroke is that the song sounds just like a Son Volt tune! Touché!
In the October 2002 edition of Uncut, Adams said that “Chin Up, Cheer up” was “bluegrass meets the Smiths.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Album closer, “Jesus (Don’t Touch My Baby)” may be the only true demo on the album given the shitty drum machine sound. Think Leonard Cohen meets Depeche Mode.
All that said, I really like this album and there are some songs that are true Ryan Adams classics, where his voice and personality come through without the weight of his influences. “You Will Always Be the Same” could sit comfortably on his debut, Heartbreaker. “Cry On Demand” displays the knack for melody and the immediacy of Adams’ voice that first made me a fan. “Tomorrow” too is Adams in his most comfortable setting: acoustic guitar, gut wrenching melody, and Gillian Welch playing Emmy Lou Harris to Adams’ Gram Parsons. These songs are true classics and worth the price of the album alone.
So, I like this album plenty and I like that Adams has the balls to put out an album that so blatantly flaunts his influences. Artists try too often to project themselves as true originals, but none of us live in a vacuum and Adams is taking a risk in showing that he too is affected by the music of others. In fact, you could say “rock and roll has changed his life,” and this may be his way of acknowledging that and paying homage to the artists who created it.