If there’s one thing you can almost guarantee is going to be inspirational to a songwriter like [a]Ryan Adams[/a], then it’s a difficult relationship. From the softly struck piano chords, the sighs of pedal steel guitar and the plaintive declarations – “I miss you…” – you find throughout it, ‘Love Is Hell’ is certainly about that. This, however, is an album that is about more than just boy meets girl. It’s also about boy meets other bands, and even, funnily enough, boy meets record
‘Love Is Hell’, to explain a little, arrives to us here in compromised
state. Not in a musical sense – bigger, more conscious of its emotional
impact, this is a [a]Ryan Adams[/a] record asking to be considered alongside his very best – but this isn’t everyone’s opinion, particularly that of his record company, Lost Highway. Delivered in one fifteen
track piece, rather than the two EPs we have here, they thought it unformed and unrepresentative, and sent Adams back to knock out the disappointing, if upbeat ‘Rock N Roll’ instead.
A strange move all round. Listening to this, it seems they’ve thrown away the fruit, and chosen to heavily promote the banana peel.
Emotionally and politically, this is a town that [a]Ryan Adams[/a] has been to before. His album ‘The Suicide Handbook’ was rejected for the more in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Gold’, and while this proved to be his
breakthrough album, the situation raised then is the same one as is raised here: who is the real [a]Ryan Adams[/a]? And who is the one that’s most worthy of your attention?
After all, like the old joke has it, Ryan
Adams is a swell bunch of guys. The witty, but loving musical satirist of ‘Rock N Roll’. The jokey punk rock enthusiast who plays with Jesse Malin in The Finger. And then there’s the guy we find dominant here,
luxuriating in his encyclopaedic musical knowledge, dwelling, magnificently on his heartbreak. Of course, it’s a no-brainer. The Adams of ‘Love Is Hell’ has gone out to make an album that actually [I]is[/I] classic rock ‘n’ roll rather than one that can simply impersonate it, and sound convincing. And what does he get for his pains? Of course, inevitably, rejection.
All particularly disappointing, one would imagine, given that here Ryan Adams takes on some influences and comes to terms with them in a mature and incredibly satisfying way. It’s no small feat: such are his talents, this is an artist who can sometimes appear like a clever child, able to turn his hand to anything, but not necessarily mean any of it. Here, important musical presences like [a]Jeff Buckley[/a] (‘Afraid Not Scared’), [a]Tim Buckley[/a] (‘Please Do Not Let Me Go’), [a]Oasis[/a] ‘Wonderwall’), and even [a]Coldplay[/a] (on ‘World War 24’, while ‘Political Scientist’ quite amusingly takes two of their titles and puts them side by side) are met head on, their lessons learned and worked
Far more importantly though, is that considered together ‘Love Is Hell’ is simply the kind of thing that people shy away from making any more: a totally excellent double album. Made of familiar stuff (the staple building material here is immaculately produced,
reverberating FM rock music, we’re talking pianos, acoustic guitars, the kind of thing to send [a]Strokes[/a] running away screaming), it stands oddly out of place in its context. Like a couple of similar-size, similarly out of time albums, say, [a]Clash[/a]’s ‘London Calling’ or Husker Du’s ‘Warehouse: Songs And Stories’ it’s all the better for it. It’s even got a proper title track.
And what about that love? Well, the love that we find on ‘Love Is Hell’ is a lot like the album itself. At times self-involved, at times filled with moments of unbearable poignancy. At times flirting with cliché, occasionally knowing, sometimes even flirting with other people. Most often, though, it’s a painful but beautiful business, that keeps you coming back. As [a]Ryan Adams[/a] himself once hinted when talking about Coldplay, it’s full of contradictions. “Fuck you,
Coldplay,” he said. “Fuck you for being so good.”
You know what? Fuck you, too, [a]Ryan Adams[/a].
Get ‘Love Is Hell Part 1’ & ‘Love Is Hell Part 2’ at the NME Shop