May 1, 2007

Ryan Adams is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most frustrating artist I have ever been a fan of in my lifetime. Don’t get me wrong—I love Heartbreaker like a son, and his last few albums have been quite decent, even outstanding at times (“Let it Ride” and “The Hardest Part” spring to mind). But his solo output since Whiskeytown disbanded has been a confounding mess, where the best of Adams’ sessions remain in the vaults and a lot of his worst songs have seen official release, with the crown jewel of crap being his ode to everything we hate about mainstream radio, Rock N Roll. What’s sad is that a lot of his great unreleased songs were supposed to see the light of day, as Adams was preparing a box set named Career Ender of his numerous sessions from 2000 to 2002. But his label, Lost Highway, eventually balked, and we got the over-produced, disappointing Demolition in its stead—kind of like a publishing firm promising the Hitler Diaries, then just releasing the chapter where Hitler has a chat with Goebbels about sauerkraut.

However, thanks to the Internet, any curious Adams fan can find these lost recordings and marvel at a) just how good a songwriter he really is, and b) just how bad his judgment is in selecting songs for his albums. Case in point is the first song on the Exile on Franklin Street “album,” “Faker.” Gently propelled by an insistent drumbeat and a minor-chord acoustic charge, Adams mumbles his way through the song, a heavy reverb distortion on his vocals making the lyrics even harder to discern. Then the chorus hits—Adams says “I’m a faker” a lot, the backing band rises up to meet him, and suddenly a blissful wah-wah solo takes us to the fade-out. It’s a brilliant example of how Adams can make something out of nothing, taking a deceptively simple melody and garbled lyrics and creating a great tune.

Adams would revisit the tune a few years later for Love Is Hell, adding even more reverb than necessary, a hell of a lot of swearing, and three more minutes of pointless jamming. It’s a car wreck, borderline unlistenable—and still a fantastic song. True to form, that version never saw release, either. Perhaps it was just too good to be heard by anybody else.

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Tony Ling | 8:00 am

 
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