Ryan Adams’ Latest Ploy

Ryan AdamsDemolition (Lost Highway)

DemolitionI 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.

28 thoughts on “Ryan Adams’ Latest Ploy”

  1. I don’t know much Ryan Adams, but your description of the album itself reminds me of Spacehog’s ‘The Chinese Album.’ That got widely panned as a hodgepodge of too many musical confluences and juxtapositions, resulting ultimately in no more that musical whiplash. Taken out of context, though, each track is at least an admirable take on some long-used pop throughfare, if not a hallmark of the genre.

    I appreciate albums that are well composed and have their own distinct flow and feeing, but I’ll just as gladly take any old collection of tunes from a good artist.

  2. ok, so i bought this record the same day as beck’s, which means it’s gotten much less play at this point, but i’m glad to see you guys review it. as a fan of heartbreaker, NOT gold, i just want to hear the suicide handbook! i expected things to be much more stripped down overall on this record…”demo”-lition is a bit of a misnomer, it’s more like mishmash. i think he’s drowning in cheese through a lot of this. don’t we all feel like he’s capable of more?

  3. Yes, I do expect more from Ryan Adams. It’s easy to bash him since he gives so many outlandish quotes to magazines and is in that Gap ad, but Ryan Adams IS a good songwriter. I think my problem with Adams is that he needs an editor. Jake and I have discussed this at length and I really think that’s the issue. He creates so much that maybe he loses site of the gems. Most really good artists create a lot of material. Most of it is crap but every once in a while they really strike something. From Neil Young and Bob Dylan to Ernest Hemingway or Pablo Picasso, you see a lot of material and some really striking pieces among the shit. Hell, Neil Young put out a series of crappy albums in the 80s on Geffen. It doesn’t take away from the fact that On the Beach or After the Goldrush are perfect.

  4. bah, ryan adams has peaked and now just rehashes other peoples stuff, he is good but nowhere near great and if not for the wype would be forgotten like many a young fella who useta write a great song

  5. Umm, I was looking around on your site and I couldn’t find the address that I would use to submit my receipt for the purchase of Demolition. If you could send my reimbursement to:

    Nathan Walker

    1 Oftheworstaltcountryalbumsever Lane

    Seattle, WA 98119

    I would appreciate. You can rest assured that your refund of my hard earned money will be spent on buying the non-burned copy of the absolutely amazing new Low album, Trust.

    Thanks again for your help,

    Nathan

  6. Yeah, sorry Phil. I was trying to be tongue-in-cheek. Umm, I had been debating about getting this one since it came out because the previews I listened to didn’t really catch me off of Lost Highway. Then, I read your review and I know how much you panned Gold (which I liked a lot, not as much as Heartbreaker but still quite a bit) so I thought, heh, if he likes it, it must be good…

    I thought it sounded really hokey. If anything, it’s overproduced with corny modern Elton John piano runs and the necessary guitar slides that keep it in the alt.country genre. It was a real let down for me.

    I was hoping to at least get the track that he’s been playing live that had a chorus of something about a “vampire” that was one of the highlights of the show when I caught him last winter.

    Seriously though, the new Low album is very, very beautiful.

    Plus, I haven’t given Demolition a fair chance. I was listening to Lush and Ride almost exclusively all day yesterday and then I popped in Demolition. I’m not sure it stood a chance.

  7. OK – everyone should realize that this is just a collection of songs that didn’t make the cut to be on Ryan’s earlier records… It’s not a “new” record, by any means, and it probably should not have been titled “Demolition”, as it is misleading.

    That said, Ryan’s leftovers are better than 95% of the other stuff being released out there right now, and there are some amazing songs on this record, like “Cry on Demand” & “You Will Always Be the Same”…

  8. Nate,

    Give it another chance. It’s not the “return” of Ryan Adams but it is a decent collection of songs. Like I wrote in the article, it doesn’t stand on its own as an album but there are a number of really cool, touching songs. Mostly the acoustic numbers, which is where I think Ryan Adams is most comfortable.

    Mark,

    I agree with you. Ryan Adams gets a lot of shit from “alt.country” fans because he’s so obnoxious in interviews and so obviously enjoying fame (who can blame the guy?), but I am a real fan of his music. I think he’s talented and I look forward to his releases. Luckily, the guy records five albums a year so we’re sure to get loads of material for years to come.

  9. Other than Heartbreaker, do you think he’s recorded a cd’s worth of good, strong material yet (including with Whiskeytown)? For every five albums, is there 47 minutes of good stuff?

  10. Yes. There is at least one full album worth of material you could harvest from Whiskeytown and other releases. Don’t undercut how great Heartbreaker is either. That is a solid album and that’s saying something. Gold has grown on me, though I still don’t like the production. I hate most of the production of Whiskeytwon (as I’ve noted on this site repeatedly) even though there are some great songs. So, if you’re looking for good songs and great production, there’s probably one whole album’s worth.

    Hopefully, Adams will return to the grittier, organic sound of Heartbreaker for his next album and skip the classic rock polish of Gold.

  11. wow, dphillips, we are on the same page completely. i’m impressed. :) ryan’s production is killing me. i am debating whether or not to go see him play solo acoustic when he’s in town (i will be seeing him at bridge school as well.)– that is the only format i feel like i can handle from him. and it’s too bad his excellent songs are so few and far between on work other than heartbreaker. i see him as having much wasted potential. why has ethan johns allowed this ?(that’s pretty much a hypothetical question, but i really do wonder.)

  12. I’ll be surprised if his production gets better, S. After the minor success of Gold, he’ll get lots of pressure to follow up with something even more radio friendly. I think releasing Demolition was an appeasement to Adams, who really wanted to release all the albums this work was pulled from. I do hope we get another gem like Heartbreaker though. It really is a favorite of mine. It’s shocking that Ethan Johns produced both Heartbreaker and Gold. Two sides of the moon as far as I’m concerned.

  13. While I agree that Heartbreaker is amazing and a true work of musical art, I don’t know why you guys are so down on Gold.

    Gold is a great record, and I like every song on there – some I LOVE – but I like every song…. and that’s hard to say nowadays about anybody’s work – and before you ask, yes, I have high standards about production and songwriting like you guys. I am a musician myself who has met Ryan in person and he was a genuine person who loves music and we talked about it for awhile and I came away respecting the guy a lot.

    I think we should all just enjoy his amazing music and stop being so snobby about whether it’s “alt.country” or whatever…

    It’s great music and that’s all that matters.

  14. Haven’t had a chance to respond to this…but what was the over/under on the number of posts before someone wrote ” is better than 90/95% of the stuff out there?”

    I am also interested in what the over/under was on “I am a musician and I know what is all about…”

    In the case of Ryan Adams, I would expect 4 posts on the “Better than 90/95% of what is out there”; but I think poor Mark didn’t get a chance to get it in on time. Why do fans of drivel like Adams, Counting Crows, Wallflowers, Goo Goo Dolls and their contemporaries always argue that their favorite flava is better than 90/95% of what is out there? Compared to what? What are you listening to that Gold or Demolition is better than 95% of the music you are exposed to? Gold is a horrible effort by a once talented songwriter. Demolition is a soundtrack for shopping at the Gap.

  15. Oops – HTML to part of my message —

    The standard responses by those that post these things should be:

    1) “‘ARTISTS’ is better than 90/95% of what is out there”

    and

    2) “I am a musician too, and I know what ‘ARTIST’ is all about”

  16. I would argue that “Strangers Almanac” (Whiskeytown) is comparable to Heartbreaker. I didn’t hate Gold and I don’t hate Demolition though so take that recommendation for what’s it worth. Heartbreaker and Strangers Almanac are, without questions, his two best works in my opinion.

  17. …and then, to counteract these “all about the music” types, the are always a few “music is politics” types who try to paint radio-friendly music as “drivel” and attach it to corporations like “the Gap”. People who view music more politically (I am one) don’t really advance their worldview by deconstructing the “taste” arguments of music fans who disagree, and replacing it with their own equally deconstructable “taste” arguments.

  18. GP,

    One of my main beefs with Strangers Almanac is the over-use of chorus on the guitars. It has a very Light Rock production that I can’t stand. I haven’t even listened to that album in ages because of it (maybe I should revisit though…)

    Same goes for Gold. Like I said, that album has actually grown on me a bit and I really like a number of the songs. I just wish it sound as intimate and loose as Heartbreaker does. Gold is just a tad too polished for me and that really detracts from my enjoyment of the album. It’s just a matter of taste and I’m really not into bashing Ryan Adams.

  19. The 90 – 95% range actually may be closer to the “Troof” than you think. If you’ve ever worked at a record shop, you might know this. A lot of people don’t realize how much shit is put out each and every week. Sometime, hop on over to the Billboard website and take a look at what is being released this week. Tell me if you’ve even ever heard of half of that shit.

    Record labels send stacks and stacks of promo cds out to shops each month of stuff that is so terrible that you can’t even fathom why it’s being put out. Mostly, it’s all thanks to ProStudio software, if you ask me.

    As far as Ryan Adams bashing goes, the kid asks for it. You can’t go out hyping yourself all over the world and not expect the backlash. I’m sure he loves music and is not just doing it for the money but he’s still caught up in the fame and scene of it all. I’m sure the dollars make up for the hurt he must feel when we pan his crappy recordings. They may be crappy and put out twice as fast as his older material once was, but it’s still selling infinitely better.

  20. IT’S CALLED KEEPING YOURSELF IN THE PUBLIC EYE, then go on tour (acoustically) to play some of those tracks to again KEEP YOURSELF IN THE PUBLIC EYE, get some nice free press about your acoustic show (which is the only way artists make money), which in turn up sells the SHITTY QUASI “DEMO’S”. then after you have milked what you can out of the “SHITTY QUASI DEMOS” and solo tour (which is admirable and doable for someone with Ryan’s talent), put out a brand new album that will…….say it together with me boys and girls:

    KEEP YOURSELF IN THE PUBLIC EYE

    hey laggards, artists have a contractual agreement to THE MAN (in Ryan’s case Universal) and this is just one more way of fulfilling that contract for little or no money or sweat from the get go. Put the thing in the pipeline and see what it churns out. Guess what the next album might have? Besides every iota of power that UNI can disperse in say a month; a couple other “SHITTY QUASI DEMOS” that you might know, might articulate as someone else’s and then in return make fun of. But i guess we all have to play a role. Ryan’s being songwriter-singer-guitarist-front man of Ryan Adams. Yours is that of disseminator or connector. Our’s is that of reader, consumer or MP3 mongrel. However you slice it you still ultimately did what “THE MAN” wanted you to do…..Talk about it which KEEPS IT IN THE PUBLIC EYE.

    Ryan Adams is a great musician and the greatest of all have stolen from the greatest from before. It’s he or she who can steal, reverse and then add their personal touch who succeed for eternity. We all need a starting point. In Ryan’s case it also helps that he can churn and burn um about as quick as the rest of us can sit here and bag on it. I’d take a hodge podge of his tracks, however they were “sequenced,” over a top 40 CCE hit or a month as the reigning Heavy Weight Soundscan scumbag any day of the week.

  21. Let’s assume there are 100 new albums released every week (and you know there are at least that many when you include all the indies), and let’s even assume that Ryan Adams’ album is better than 95% of them. That still means that there are FIVE albums coming out every week that are as good as Ryan Adams. I’m pretty sure this is true, but we’ll never hear most of them or even hear about them.

    Unless, of course, everybody starts mailing those five good albums per week to GLONO HQ: PO Box 118185, Chicago, IL 60611. We’ll be sure to let you know which albums are better than Ryan Adams.

  22. Sounds like lot of kids desperate to be hip with this “I liked him when nobody knew he was” crap. “Demolition” is a good record. Whaddaya want for your $9.99 anyway? It’s sure a hell of a lot better than Beck’s new “I want to be taken seriously now” album!

  23. Have any of you seen Ryan on his current tour? I went last night in Philadelphia and it blew me away. Almost the entire set is “Heartbreaker” material and it’s amazing. I don’t get where most of you are coming from. He’s one of my favorite artists I’ve discovered in years – and I think “Demolition” rules.

  24. I have been listening to music for 20 years and like everybody I have my own personal taste. By my standards Gold, Heartbreaker and the last Whiskeytown album are classics and will be seen as so by many people before too long. Just compare how the RA songs stand up to Elton Johns classics on the CMT Crossroads special. Melody, lyrics, atmosphere, most of his songs have it all. The best parts of Demolition are the quiet songs…Cry on Demand,Always be the Same,Dont Touch my Baby which are up there with his best.

  25. Well you can always tell the critics. Indeed nothing is ever good enough for them outside of Jesus himself coming down to produce a record. The boy get a little too famous for y’all? What a bunch of jaded crap. It’s good stuff for what it is. An almost unpublished collection. And hmmm… 90/95% of other stuff? What? Britney and Justin are out there leading a pop and rap parade all over music charts, which are crap in this country anyway. Music industry run. get out of the microuniverse you live in. If you ever come face to face with the guy, and I have… he’s wonderfully brilliant, I’d like you tell ask him in no uncertain terms for your money back. *steps off soap box and out into the real world*

  26. well, reading this I’m getting a good idea of just how much different peoples’ opinions vary. I, personally love Heartbreaker, Gold and Demolition…I’m listening to Demolition right now. I can’t remember which one of you mentioned it, and I can be bothered to scroll up to find out (very lazy :D), but I didn’t know that Demolition was a collection of other songs that didn’t make it on to previous albums…very interesting.

    reading all your comments about the production, etc. made me think about my thoughts on Ryan’s music. To be honest, I don’t know much about the way music is recorded or written, I just buy the music I like. I’m not into any ‘popular’ bands, I’m probably the only person I know who actually knows who Ryan Adams is. Anyway, I’m starting to ramble…so I’ll get to my point.

    It seems to me that Ryan just writes and sings what he feels – and if people like it they’ll buy it. Sure he got a bit famous, and he’s enjoying it…who wouldn’t? That doesn’t make his music any better or worse. Of course, I can’t actually speak for Ryan and this is just my opinion – but I thought I might as well share it with some people.

Leave a Reply