Hey, Ryan. Long time, no see.
Generally, I'm a faithful guy. I've had the same best friends for over ten years. Andrew and I are just weeks away from our second anniversary. Even when she was getting lambasted for "American Life," I stood by Madonna, acknowledging that there were a few great songs on an otherwise terrible album.
But Ryan Adams? I just keep straying.
But, like... that's only because he keeps doing me wrong!
I mean, we had a great relationship at first. When he was still lead singer with Whiskeytown--a period I'll call "courtship"--I thought he was good for some laughs and a few late-night cry sessions.
Then things got serious. He released his solo album "Heartbreaker," and I was smitten. To this day, there are songs on that gorgeous alt-country masterpiece that force me to stop whatever I'm doing and give them all my attention.
"Oh My Sweet Carolina," especially, is a devastating ballad about homesickness, and the softly plucked guitar melody is the perfect fit for Adams' cracked-and-weeping voice. Plus, Emmylou Harris sings harmony vocals, and her presence always means something beautiful is coming.
With the release of his next album, "Gold," I was ready to call Ryan Adams my steady. Even though I saw him act like a drunken fool at a concert in Atlanta, I couldn't deny the toe-tapping pop of "New York, New York;" the nine-minute, lung-scorching majesty of "Nobody Girl;" or the melancholy beauty of "La Cienega Just Smiled."
(And for the record, "When The Stars Go Blue" is a Ryan Adams song. It's on this album, and it was not originally recorded by Tim McGraw, thank you very much, Ryan Seacrest.)
Ryan and I hit a bumpy spot with his next album, "Demolition," but I thought his self-indulgence was just a phase. A fear of commitment. I mean, when he dropped three albums between 2002 and 2003--"Rock and Roll" and "Love is Hell Parts 1 & 2"--I had to admire his gumption. It was cute! And how could I stay mad over "Demolition" when "Rock and Roll" was so freaking great?
Seriously, you guys. If you don't know Adams' song "So Alive," do whatever you can to hear it. It's the kind of effortless rock anthem that U2 used to make. In the chorus, he sings these long, wailing notes that make you want to stand on the edge of a cliff, throw your arms back, and belt out loud. That kind of bombastic music requires grand gestures, you know?
But after that long honeymoon, Ryan and I hit a major rough patch. He just kept releasing albums, and he was almost drowning is his self-regard. We all know the syndrome. Prince does it. Ani DiFranco does it. They flood the market with every note they've ever put on tape, and it gets hard to sift the quality out of the crap.
This was especially frustrating for Ryan and me. I wanted to yell, "Hey! Why don't you just release one album that's entirely filled with good songs? And why don't you give me back the sweater you borrowed two Labor Days ago?!?"
I'll admit it you guys: After that, we broke up. I needed space to heal.
But now Ryan Adams is courting me again. Today, he released "Easy Tiger," and it's fantastic. (listen to four songs here). Many of the reviews you'll read will liken it to "Heartbreaker," and that's a good comparison. The songs are back to being simple roots-rock, filled with harmonicas and pretty singing and occasionally catchy drum beats. And like he does on all his best songs, Adams submits to his vulnerability. On tracks like "Goodnight Rose" and "Two," it sounds like the music is a last-ditch fight against a permanently broken heart. Even more aggressive rockers like "Halloweenhead" have a Tom Petty-style ache. (The more I listen to it, in fact, the more I think "Halloweenhead" is a spiritual sequel to Petty's "Free Falling.")
The current issue of "Wired"--remember when I read that?--suggests that Adams' new album is focused and affecting because he used his website to release all his random, experimental songs. That seems possible, and I'm okay with it. If he needs to do his own thing a few nights a week, it's only going to make our relationship stronger.
So yes, Ryan, you can come over.
I've missed you, too.
And go ahead. Keep the sweater. It looks better on you anyway.