What are we going to do about this guy? Seriously. Not only does he put out two records in one day, but the one I get stuck reviewing is his foray into 80s light rock? I’d rather have the dirty stick, thanks very much.
Love is Hell, Pt. 1 (thanks for the warning of the coming Part 2) starts out strong, actually. The lead-off track, “Political Scientist,” is a spooky tune about chemical plants and all that dark grimey shit that is so in fashion during this Bush administration. The bass playing is fantastic and melodic like that of McCartney’s best post-Rubber Soul. The song launches into some nice soundscapes toward the end and can’t help but draw comparisons to bits of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (a band for which Adams is forever linked because of his constant disingenuous distancing). And while the lead guitar hovers too close to later day David Gilmore for my likings, it quickly recovers to a jangly mess that touches more on Mind Bomb-era Johnny Marr and continues Adams’ fascination with all things Smiths.
That, of course, brings us to the Mozzer-like “Afraid Not Scared,” which would be a fine song if not for the annoying layers of reverb all over the place. It’s like Ryan just discovered the Alesis Quadraverb that musicians everywhere first got their hands on in 1986. Most of this EP is stuck in 1986, in fact.
Produced by John Porter (yes, of the Smiths and Roxy Music fame), Love is Hell reeks of 80s polish and echo. It seems Adams cannot let his songs come through these days without drenching them in the putrid stench of bad production. For someone with all the bravado of a street fighter in print, he seems too afraid to let his songs stand on their own.
Even the Oasis cover “Wonderwall,” a song by two loud-mouthed mother fuckers who could teach Ryan a thing or two about being a ponce, falls flat with the use of a fretless bass. Fretless bass! Christ, even Sting has steered relatively clear of this soul sucking instrument since that crap Blue Turtle record that let us all in on his diabolical plan to soften rock.
Ah, but it seems our boy is a bit of an anglophile. Sure, good music lovers everywhere owe a debt to that tiny island nation for the wealth of great pop they’ve ponied up. But Ryan Adams seems to be turning into that annoying girl on foreign study who adopts a British accent two weeks into the semester. Yes, Ryan even screams out “love is ‘ell” on the title track. Need I say more?
Sad to say because I love a lot of what Ryan Adams has done, but what made his earlier work so compelling was his reliance on good songwriting and loose production. This album has neither and is better left for the WLHT crowd.