t's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when being “nice” in music became such a heinous crime. It’s something that Ryan Adams is constantly accused of and, if we are to agree that it is a sin, then it is quite hard to make a solid case for his defense. However, after listening to much of Gold, it’s a felony that more artists could do with being guilty of.
The former singer/songwriter for Whiskeytown with the notoriously high work-rate set out his stall with 2000’s Heartbreaker and has not appeared to move in any direction too drastically from there. If anything Gold shows him to be a more adept pop writer than his debut suggested. Opening track “New York, New York” is definitely the catchiest song in his solo canon and possibly the best. Written pre-9/11 (I can’t think why I’d point that out, I don’t think he has much “cred” to protect) it is a love song to the city that although open to accusations of the dreaded “niceness”, by the same token; greatness too.
It is when Adams veers from the hook-orientated path that the record suffers; “When The Stars Go Blue” is a track that achieves the musical miracle of meandering without seeming to go anywhere. “I wish I had a Sylvia Plath” he sings later on a song named after the poet but while he mumbles what he would do if he did have a Sylvia Plath, Adams leaves us in confusion as to why on earth he would want one.
With 16 tracks making up an album of over 70 minutes Gold is not easy to listen to all the way through. Despite having a phenomenal song writing talent, Adams seems to lack an aptitude for conciseness. This is exemplified by the album’s centrepiece “Nobody Girl” which could (and should) have been his finest achievement but the fact this fairly simple song lasts twice the time necessary (almost 10 minutes) makes it punishing and will see you reaching for the skip button. The 11 finest tracks plucked from this album could have made an LP to rival anything else released in the year but, unfortunately, Gold is slightly less than the sum of its parts.
Ryan Adams can be proud that he has made a record showing his massive potential, “New York, New York”, “Firecracker” and “Gonna Make You Love Me” are all songs that show this promise. However it also leaves him with plenty of creases to iron out before he makes the definitive album he is capable of. Hopefully, his colossal work-rate will not oblige him to put out his next album before it is truly ready.
Reviewed by: Jon Monks
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01