Ryan Adams is underrated. This album should be one of the most praised albums ever. Everyone should own it and love it like I do. Why? Because it is just that lovely and sad and beautiful and tragic and magical and perfect. So there.
I actually am not a huge fan of most of these singer-songwriter types of the 2000s. Bright Eyes aka Conor Oberst grates on my nerves. Elliot Smith has great songs but ultimately is so sad I can’t listen to him for any length of time. Badly Drawn Boy is (shockingly) too weirdly British. Ryan Adams sprung himself out of Whiskeytown and became a solo artist, melding his rock aspirations, folk voice, and country stylings into one magical record.
It is no secret to the ones who love me that one of my favourite songs of all time is Adam’s briskly bitter “New York, New York”, a love letter and a slap to the face to the city Adams lives in. It’s forever etched in my mind along with the video, which had been filmed on September 7, 2001, across the river from the World Trade Center towers, which loom in the background as majestic symbols of capitalistic dreams, or two enormous phallic representation of American ideals. As he evokes the memories of sixties folk and country, his twin obsessions with Dylan and Parsons with a bit of Springsteen thrown in for good measure, Adams paints a picture of love in the streets of a city that can be as cruel to you as she is, but you forgive the city because she offers so much more than a mere mortal ever could.
The albums buckles under the weight of heartache. Two breakups add to the sadness that permeates the quieter moments. “When the Stars Go Blue”, which remains Adams best know composition thanks to a Tim McGraw cover a few years later that had the twang but lacked the misery Adams sings with, is exquisite in its loneliness. It’s a song that aches with solitude, a song that simply must be listened to in a darkened space, eyes closed, in that first step one must take to forget the horror that accompanies a dying relationship. “Dancing when the stars go blue”, he sings, before going on to describe a relationship that is clearly unhappy from wedding to the miserable end. “Where do you go when you get lonely?” he asks with heartbreak. But there is that last bit of hope that hangs in the air. “I’ll follow you.” Loneliness is a strong emotion, one that never truly leaves you, even if you find love and happiness. It sits in the corner, calling your name. It knows it’ll get to take over again at some point.
I’m always impressed not only by Adams as a songwriter, and believe me, he’s a brilliant one (“Nobody Girl”, “Sylvia Plath”, “Firecracker” as shine on this record, and they are not the tracks I consider the best- those are still to come). I’m more impressed with his voice. It’s not grand and perfect. When I write about American Idol and the polished shrieking harpys, I often evoke the imperfections of a Springsteen, Dylan, and Petty as examples why we must not put polished and loud above style and interpretation. Adams falls into the style and interpretation group, a rich voice that sounds different on nearly every track- a warble sounding like Parsons one minute, Petty like on the next, before you sit and hear the influences of James Taylor, Richard Thompson, even Manchester king Morrissey in that voice of his. He listens to the stories they told and learned well.
My favourite tracks on this sixteen song masterpiece of Americana misery are the romantic sadness of “La Cienega Just Smiled”, The Heartbreakersesque “Somehow, Someday”, The countrified Smiths of “Harder Now That It’s Over”, the earth shattering agony that tinges the brilliant closer “Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard”, with its seventies Billy Joel touches and overwhelming atmosphere of smoky bars and bad beer. Matched with the opening track and now classic “When The Stars Go Blue”, it tells a tale of love, loss, America, and being alone. It’s a powerful record. Adams continues to write amazing songs, and is prolific, writing a rumoured nine songs a day. Based on the records he has put out in the last decade, he’s the current master, for I love each one of them. But the one thing that makes you fall in love with an artist often remains the favourite, and Gold is worth its weight and then some.