Review: Ryan Adams: Cold Roses
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 alt.country 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.
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