[Lost Highway; 2001]
Former Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams wants you to think he's a bad boy. And
as you can plainly see, he is. The cover of Gold features Adams decked
out in country-punk wares and unkempt hair, gazing downwards and assuming a
check-out-my-designer-chic pose. All this in front of an inverted American flag.
The booklet depicts Adams with his lady friend, martinis, guitars, and a handgun.
Maybe someone should lock him away. Or maybe he should become a crossover star!
The sad thing: Gold seems to make a fairly concerted effort to achieve
just that. Last year's Heartbreaker bolstered quite a lineup of mellow
Beatlesque tunes with a few roots-rockers to boot, but this time around, Adams
trades in Gillian Welch and David Rawlings for Adam Duritz and Chris Stills.
In truth, David Rawlings is still around, but you probably won't notice. I
didn't. At least, not initially. The track Rawlings co-wrote, "Touch, Feel and
Lose," is perhaps the most awkward song here, bolstering a few horns and a retro
feel that fails where Björk's "It's Oh So Quiet" succeeded. And whatever
happened to being sad and high? Now it's all about being sad and feeling sorry
for yourself: "If you were a bird, could you sing me a song of sorrow?/ 'Cause
all I know from you is grief."
And where did this Neil Young vocal style come from? You know, that no-attack,
slightly off-key warble for which only Neil Young can be held accountable. It
somehow finds its way onto two Gold tracks: "Somehow, Someday" and "Harder
Now That It's Over." The latter does manage to redeem itself with a glowing
chorus. In fact, without the tiptop production, the backing "choir" featuring
the Counting Crows' Adam Duritz, and the Youngian lead vocal, the track might be
almost as good as anything on Heartbreaker.
But let's get back to the ridiculous production values. One of the primary
elements that made Heartbreaker so heartbreaking was the starkly intimate
ambiance that crisply revealed every nuance of Adams' voice. (It also didn't
hurt that Adams seemed to be dealing with some sincere issues.) But even with
producer Ethan Johns still at the controls, Gold comes off as clean,
shiny, and over-the-top as Elliott Smith's XO, replete with strings,
horns, and female backup singers. I double-checked the credits. Jon Brion
The backup singers Adams employs on Gold fail to compare with Emmylou
Harris' subtle performance on Heartbreaker's "Oh My Sweet Carolina";
instead, they're full-on Tina Turners who can't resist just belting it out--
the kind of go-nowhere yowling that made Clare Torry so internationally
despised after her "contribution" to Dark Side of the Moon's "Great Gig
in the Sky." The singers lay the biggest claim to "Nobody Girl" and "Tina
Toledo's Street Walkin' Blues" in the form of-- no surprise here-- extended
bridges, the latter's bridge dragging the track out to a bloated 9½ minutes.
And it goes on like this!
Now about that second rating: it refers to the limited edition second disc
which is only included with Gold's first pressing. Interestingly enough,
it shows what Gold might have been had it not grasped for the
multi-platinum ring. Here we have five honest songs whose recordings disregard
cliches and orchestra hall reverb. We get an energetic performance on the
rocker, "Rosalie Come and Go," quiet somberness on "The Fools We Are as Men,"
and a crackling stumble on the vocals of "The Bar Is a Beautiful Place."
Perhaps we should consider Adams' note to the Bloodshot Records folk which
includes a self-penned "Ten Reasons I Am a Sell-Out Loserbaked Oven-Shithead."
Despite forgetting to mention that he's now priming himself-- intentionally or
not-- as a contender for VH1's Vogue Fashion Award, he does manage to state,
"[I] am a big wimp, and miss my bloodshot sweethearts." Sure, he does. Maybe
that's why he put all his decent material on the bonus disc.
-Christopher F. Schiel, October 9th, 2001