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Review: Ryan Adams: Cold Roses

Posted on 10 June 2005 by Caryn Rose (7)

I am one of those people who thinks that Ryan Adams is a Boy Wonder. I am an unabashed apologist for his drug-inspired ramblings and alcohol-fueled tantrums. I own dozens of live bootlegs (over 50, at least). I think the purists who want a mando on every song or they condemn him completely (they use the same argument with Tweedy, for what it’s worth) can go fuck themselves. I am always the first one to say, “It’s just Ryan. It’s just part of who and what he is.”

However, what I have no answer to is the eagerly-anticipated Cold Roses. Finally! After the perversion of Love Is Hell (where are those New Orleans sessions, damn you), chopping it up into bits and then releasing the whole shebang six months later (forcing us to buy the damn thing two or three times, especially if you wanted that beautiful 10″ vinyl edition), Lost Highway is going to let Ryan release what he wants, how he wants it. Finally! We will be able to feast upon Ryan Adams’ True Creative Genius.

What we got, instead, is an unfocused, meandering double album that seems just the tiniest bit self-indulgent. It would be easier for me, I think, if I could just say “I fucking hate this record, it’s the worst thing he’s ever done, it SUCKS!” But I can’t. Cold Roses doesn’t even piss me off; it’s just — blah. Which is, I think, probably the worst crime an artist can commit. Not bad, not mediocre, not disgusting, but to be so bland as to not cause any reaction of note, any emotion, nothing. Probably the biggest crime an artist can ever commit is to be boring.

I will go on record as saying that I fucking hate the Grateful Dead. Hate them. I have incredible respect for them as artists and musicians and for what they brought to the culture, but oh my god I hate their music with a blind raging passion. It’s not even a punk rock thing, I just don’t like them, period. This probably goes a long way towards why I don’t care much for anything on Cold Roses (there are dancing bears on the inside in case you didn’t get it), but it’s not all of it, because people I know who worship the Dead aren’t turned on by it either.

Even with all of this, I still eagerly purchased a ticket go to see Ryan live, out somewhere in the wilds of New Jersey — only for Ryan Adams would I do this, I’m not even going back to this club to see the Dolls in August — and the live show was even more depressing. Maybe it was the venue, maybe it was the fact that the best vantage point when I arrived at 7:45 (doors at 7:30, it’s not like I showed up at 10) was standing at a bar, with the accompanying noise and traffic. Maybe it was the bimbos standing to my right who felt the need to shriek “WOO! RYAN! YEAH!” every time there was anything resembling silence.

Or maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t very compelling.

I hate to the person at a concert who waits for old, familiar material, but while the new songs were certainly warmer and livelier in person, they still could not hold my interest. And the old songs were completely taken apart and reinvented — legitimate, to be sure, and important always, but they felt artificial and forced: Let’s take it apart just because we can. And, again, while that’s a perfectly valid reason to do so, the new interpretations didn’t reveal anything new inside the familiar. Even if an artist takes a song apart because they are sick to death of playing it, there is usually some kind of perverse energy going on there: “Okay, let’s show you what I can do with this!” “New York, New York” as a punk polka with an accordion I would have had a grudging respect for. The slow, lumbering lilt he put to the song was trying hard to be all Nashville Skyline, but it definitely didn’t succeed.

Maybe he’s doing this on purpose. Maybe he wants to weed out those fans that aren’t truly committed to it all, who will put up with and worship everything he does. Maybe I’m just showing my true colors. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m a fan who is simply disappointed with Cold Roses, is willing to say so, and who hopes for more with the next release.

This Is It: Ryan Adams’ latest
7-4-03, Battery Park
Sara doesn’t like Cold Roses either

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7 Responses to “Review: Ryan Adams: Cold Roses”

  1. susan says:

    thanks for the review caryn. While I don’t fucking hate the Dead, I dislike them enough that the soundalike of Cold Roses was a big, immediate obstacle. I’ve found 4 songs on the two discs that are great to be depressed with, which is one of Ryan’s fortes, but I look forward to seeing what else he has up his sleeve, and someday even his-self, live and playing a bunch of golden oldies for a bunch of oldy moldies, lol.

    take care,
    “gimme a beer”

  2. Michael Schey says:

    I tend to agree with your review Caryn. There are parts of Cold Roses that I think are great, but the rest is just boring. I may actually make a single CD of the songs I like and keep it in my car. I prefer Love Is Hell over this any day.

    You didn’t like Starland? I’ve been there, but only for all ages shows when I was still accompanying my older son and his friends (his band may actually play there this fall). I always hung out at the bar with the other parents so perhaps the perspective I had of the place was different than going to a show for an artist I wanted to see.

  3. dbf says:


    Usually I agree completely with your album reviews (Songs:Ohia, Heartless Bastards, etc.). But I could not disagree more on Cold Roses and Devils and Dust. Cold Roses is the first Ryan record since Gold that I can’t wait to listen to over and over. Maybe its the 70’s influence. Maybe its the aching guitars. Maybe its that Ryan sounds like he is into it. Who knows. I just know that it’ll be playing again in my car on this Friday night in NJ.

    Devils, for me, is completely compelling both in terms of songwriting and production. Brendan O’Brien has made a beautiful sounding record to accompany this collection of heartbreaking and inspiring vignettes. Its not a novel. Its a collection of short stories woven together beautifully.

    If we can’t agree than it must be because it is art.


  4. Gretschiness says:

    Mmm…yes, it must be art. The album takes me on a ride I like…Blossom is really the only song I feel is contrived. The rest is built on beautiful melodies and as stated above “aching” guitars. There is a return to country, yes, which will piass some people off for sure…It ain’t Love Is Hell, but it stands on its own. Nice work.

  5. nico says:

    In response to the first comment on this page. Hate the Grateful Dead…whatever. They were around long before Ryan Adams and whether you like it or not, the Grateful Dead were an inspiration to Ryan if you don’t know and this album obviously. And as a musician, that where musical ideas, emotions and feelings stem from.
    So I suggest you pull your punk rock head out of your ass. Ryan Adams is an amazingly versitile player and I dig this album. This folk style is a phase showing his strengths of growth. I love the dead and am by no means pigieon holed in their music. They were the beginning of nspiring to seek out other genre’s of music.

  6. clr says:

    his “strength of growth”? um, hello, WHISKEYTOWN? folk is NOT a growth direction for Ryan. He’s mastered it; he’s done it. I can accept that he loves what he’s done here and it’s sincere and he’s having a great time; it just don’t speak to me.

    And btw, I, who run this site and wrote the piece, am the one who fucking hates the Dead. I could give a rat’s ass if Ryan worships them; as I say in the review, I RESPECT them greatly. I just can’t stand their music.

  7. As an experiment, I gave this album to the biggest Deadhead I know. She LOOOOOVED it.

    My biggest objection is the way he sticks his most memorable choruses with verses that are incredibly dull. True, it makes the song “bloom” in really satisfying ways, but there are also many times on this album where I find myself thinking “Get to the point already. How long is he going to go on like this?”