Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ryan Adams - Cold Roses review

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Cold Roses (2005, Lost Highway Records)

I’m a sucker for double albums. While I admire the tight rock masterpieces delivered in roughly thirty minutes by bands like the Strokes and Hot Hot Heat, there’s something equally exciting about the prospect of exploring an album that wasn’t satisfied with its station in life and longed to be more than just a typical single disc release.

I feel the same way about movies. My favorite film is the two hundred and twenty nine minute director’s cut of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America. I have refrained from buying the separate DVD releases of both Kill Bill films because of Tarantino’s promise to eventually release his opus as it was originally intended to be seen as a single film. I also have a soft spot for Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling Magnolia. As long as the quality is high, I say the longer the better. Tell me a story that holds my attention and I’ll stay in my seat until you’ve said all you had to say.

Double albums are like the kids back in kindergarten who refused to color inside the lines. A large majority of music journalists take the stance that a teacher or principal would take with the offending student. They automatically assume that since the album doesn't conform to the standards set by... Other artists? Record labels? Critics? ...that it's probably bloated, pretentious, filled with extraneous tracks, unnecessary, full of itself, etc. In truth, double albums just require a little more time to digest.

Some of the greatest albums ever recorded in the history of rock and roll have been doubles. Blonde on Blonde, The White Album, Exile on Main Street, London Calling, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Songs in the Key of Life, Bitches Brew, Zen Arcade, The Wall, Tommy, Electric Ladyland, and Physical Graffiti are just a few that come to mind.

The general rule of thumb is to give an album time to become a classic. Time will tell if it's really as great as you think it is. Blah, blah, blah. Fuck that. That's pussy talk. And for the most part, rock critics are pussies. The last thing they want is to make a bad call and have other music snobs balk at their impassioned claims of an album's greatness. It's like high school, really. No one wants to be laughed at.

In life, we're at our most vulnerable when we confess our love for something to someone else. It's like being naked or telling someone you're in love with them. The fear factor is there and it's unavoidable. Well, it's too late at night for me to give a shit what other people think so I'm just going to come right out and say this.

Cold Roses is not only the best album Ryan Adams has ever made but it's also one of the best double albums ever recorded. That's right. Right up there with those other classics I listed above. From start to finish it is an absolute joy to listen to. It's sad, heartbroken, and alive emotionally in ways that much of today's music is afraid to be. Producer Tom Schick and the Cardinals have brought out the absolute best in Adams. He has never sounded more relaxed or at peace with who he is as an artist as he does here. All eighteen tracks are gorgeous and shimmering testaments to his talent as a songwriter.

To call Adams prolific would be an understatement. Since his critically acclaimed debut Heartbreaker appeared in 2000, Adams has released Gold, Demolition, Love is Hell, and Rock N Roll. And those are just official releases. If you search around on the web you're likely to find unreleased albums like Destroyer, 48 Hours, and The Suicide Handbook as well. His sheer output, genre bouncing, and often cocky and standoffish public persona have gotten him in hot water with a lot of critics over the last few years, culminating in a near public flogging with the simultaneous release of both Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell.

Indie review sites like Pitchfork, who gave such glowing reviews to Heartbreaker, were suddenly only interested in trashing Adams and taking a very public piss on his new albums. That didn't stop Rolling Stone, Spin, and Mojo from giving Rock N Roll, Adams' stylistic ode to guitar rock acts like T. Rex, the Stooges, Paul Westerberg, U2, and even pals the Strokes, unanimous praise.

Never shy about his affection for the Smiths, even discussing a Morrissey song in the studio banter on Heartbreaker's first track, it came as no surprise when Adams hired Smiths producer John Porter to oversee the recording of Love Is Hell. Unlike the glossy, candy coated rock of Roll, Hell finds Adams under dark skies recording brooding ballads, folksy Dylan inspired kiss offs, and 80s Brit pop.

Both Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell seem to be Adams as a chameleon, trying on the outfits worn by his musical loves both past and present, turning them inside out and making them his own. My appreciation for those albums has grown with each listen. And you know what? I don't think Ryan Adams could ever have recorded an album as powerful as Cold Roses without making Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell first. He's come full circle. Working creatively with a band for the first time since Whiskeytown, he returns to a similar terrain as Heartbreaker but surpasses that album in every way imaginable.

Did I mention that Adams has two more albums scheduled to be released this year? Some might cringe. I welcome them both. Face it. That's just who he is. One of the best and most ambitious musicians working today. And I'll be happy to follow him wherever his musical journeys may lead.


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