Sunday, July 28, 2013

I'm Still Alive

I can't imagine anyone is checking this. I've never had what I would call a devoted following, but just in case someone's popping on, hoping for a new 19 Sank While 6 Would Swim off-beat take on whatever, please know I'm not done yet, just tired. Life has a way of pushing you into a corner if you let it, and I definitely let life shove me around for a while. Oh, I don't have some newfound resolve or anything...I'm still exhausted: physically, emotionally, mentally, but I haven't given up. I'm still here. I still have opinions. I still have things to say, and eventually, once the pressure builds up enough, I'll start saying them again. That is all. Thanks for being here. I'll try to show up more often.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

19 Sank and 6 Drowned

In the wake of The Mars Volta's demise, it's seems necessary that I finally break the seal on my silence and post a new blog. "Nineteen Sank, While Six Would Swim" is the title of the second movement in the "Frances the Mute" suite after all, so to allow this to go un-noted would be nothing less than a coded, passive-aggressive death announcement for my blog, something I'm just not willing to do (at least not yet). But I'll be entirely honest with you, I'm not sure how to say what I want to say, so I'll instead say what I need to say...

The Mars Volta changed me. I've loved music my whole life, but even the best of us lose faith from time to time, and as sad as it makes me to say, for probably the last decade, I've lost a lot of faith. But no matter how cynical or jaded I've become (or at least felt), every time a new Mars Volta record was released, I was reminded that I can still be amazed, that I haven't heard it all, that there's still beauty and purity and insanity lurking out there, hiding in small crevices, back alleys, and the darkest recesses of the mind. I've been reminded that I can still be surprised and that music still means something to me. I was reminded that Rock music can still move mountains, and that there is still wonder in the world. And so, for as sad as it makes me to know The Mars Volta are no more, it makes me infinitely more happy to know that The Mars Volta were.

I will miss the anticipation of a new record, but I will relish the wealth of tunage these gentlemen offered up for the last 12 years. Now if only there was a way to convince ORL to reissue De-Loused on record so I could have the entire full-length, studio catalog on vinyl without having to drop $200, my life would essentially be complete.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Unique Poop Still Smells Like Poop

I find the new Creationist attitude in Rock music disturbing. Too many bands are trying to remake the world. A premium has been put on the idea of creating a sound that's wholly new, wholly unique, even revolutionary, at the expense of song. I realize that the redundancy police are probably already charging towards my house, ready to beat down my door and drag me away in cuffs for writing this, but this desperation to sonically separate yourself from anything that has come before you at all costs is driving me absolutely batty.

Tomorrow morning, I will expel the waste from the food I ingested tonight. It may smell different from any other BM I've ever taken, but in the end it will still just be a weird smelling piece of shit. Being different doesn't make you good, it just makes you different. I'm not saying that I don't respect attempting to take risks, and I'm not saying that a band who tries to make a record that sounds distinct is worthless or unlikable, I'm just sick of bands developing a sound and then writing songs to that fit within the confines of that sound. What happened to writing a song and then molding your sound around the atmosphere that that song generates?

If you ask me, bands shouldn't be focusing on imagining new existences and inventing new sounds. The wheel was already invented, you can't invent it again, but you can reinvent it. Elaborate on the past. Take what's happened before and tweak it, make it your own. Adopt the past and shape it into a new destiny rather than trying to give birth to the future.

The best records by the best bands (artists) of the last 20 years have done just that: Neutral Milk Hotel, The Flaming Lips, Jeff Buckley, Olivia Tremor Control, Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Foxy Shazam, Wilco, Andrew Bird, The Darkness, Okkervil River, The Mars Volta, Built to Spill, Arcade Fire, Lucero...they've all tried to expand on what's happened before. Sometimes they failed, but sometimes they succeeded. The failures were always admirable, the successes nothing short of genius. And even though they managed to create something the world's never heard before, what made these records brilliant was you could still hear their influences, those distorted yet somehow recognizable touchstones that helped shape the music.They loved music, their love compelled them to create music, the music they loved helped them to create something entirely new even though it felt like something we've heard before.

The development of a sound should be a natural and organic process. It should happen without force, without pretense, without ambition. It doesn't have to be accidental, but it should never be intentional. Let it happen on its own. Write songs and let them figure out how you should sound. Don't put the cart before the horse. Don't try to fit in, just fit in. Don't try to stand out, just stand out. Don't try to do anything, just do something. Make an innovative record that matters, not a record that matters because it's innovative. If more bands made the record they were supposed to make rather than than the record they sought out to make, the world would be a better place.  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I Require Justin Hawkins to Make Me Happy, or An Open Letter to J.-Hawk., or Listen to Hot Leg...They're Good.

The Darkness are an amazing band. They're witty, charming, hilarious, incredibly talented musicians with easily one of the most enigmatic and charismatic vocalists recording today, and the songs they write are just so good; infectiously catchy and undeniably Rock N' Roll. I'm glad they've gotten back together, hell, I'm elated, but I still can't help feeling a little bittersweet about this reunion, because it seems to me that a world with The Darkness has no choice but to be a Legless one, and that bums me out hardcore.

Hot Leg was the band Justin Hawkins formed after the breakup of The Darkness (or technically, I guess his band after British Whale, but 3 total songs hardly filled the void that The Darkness left behind, so I choose to gloss over B-Dub). They released their debut (and quite possibly only) record, Red Light Fever, in 2009, and after nearly 3 years of a life devoid of the product of Justin Hawkins' self-described "truth larynx" (you can't deny it, this guy can fucking wail), Hot Leg didn't just feel like a breath of fresh air to me, they felt like air, period. After listening to that record for the first time, it felt like I had been forced to hold my breath for 3 years and was finally given the chance to exhale.

I'll be the first to admit that even if Red Light Fever wasn't that good, I would've been on board. It was a product of Justin Hawkins and it existed, and that would have been more than enough for me, but it was good. It was really good (it still is). In fact, I would call it Rock genius. It is vastly superior to The Darkness's sophomore effort One Way Ticket to Hell...and Back, and if you ask me, on the right day it's at least Permission to Land's equal, on an even righter day, I'd probably say Red Light Fever is the better record of the two.

For as much as I like One Way Ticket..., the album still sounds to me like the work of a band trying to figure out what their next step is. I wouldn't go so far as to say they sound like they're floundering, but the record sounds like the product of a band who knows they can't possibly improve on what they've already done but can't quite decide what direction to go into. I'm not saying the album isn't cohesive because it is, and I'm not saying it's just across-the-board adequate, because there are 4 songs that are downright remarkable and 6 others that are at the very least pretty damn good. Still, the record as a whole seems to lack focus. It's the work of a band trying to reinvent themselves without knowing what they want to do or how to do it.

Red Light Fever on the other hand is fucking razor sharp; it's honed and pin-point accurate. It has all of the focus that One Way Ticket... lacks while managing to hold onto the fundamental "Man-Rock" framework that made Permission to Land so essential. And by folding in elements of soul, funk, and blues, they manage to move out of the daunting shadow that Permission to Land cast upon any purely Rock effort that Justin Hawkins would ever attempt. When you listen to Red Light Fever, you can hear that Hot Leg not only knew who they were but what they intended to accomplish before they ever even thought about entering a studio. The result is 10 ├╝ber catchy songs with subtly sophisticated arrangements that give this record, if not an edge, at least separation from the work that Justin Hawkins did in the past. Sure, Hawkins' lyrics on Red Light Fever may lack the tongue-in-cheek, covert humor of Permission to Land,  but they're no more blunt than the songs on One Way Ticket..., and they're so forcefully fun and infectious that being hit over the head a few times seems a very small price to pay for such a strong set of tunes.

Songs like "Chickens", "Cocktails", "Kissing in the Wind", and "Prima Donna" are good enough to match or trump the best songs on One Way Ticket..., and "Whichever Way You Want to Give It" easily rivals "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" in single-ready Pop-Rock genius. On a whole, Red Light Fever seems far more of an appropriate follow-up to Permission to Land than One Way Ticket... was, but none of the aforementioned really accounts for my lamenting.

What really makes me so sad, aside from the possibility that I may never hear "Whichever Way You Want to Give it" or "Cupboard Love" live, is knowing what was on Hot Leg's horizon. Having stumbled across rough demos and live recordings of songs that were meant to be on RLF's follow-up makes me think, fuck that, makes me know that these guys had so much more to give and were really only on the brink of making a broad musical impact. On its own, the fact that "Into my Arms" may never be recorded is enough to bring me next to tears. Add everything else I've heard into the mix, and it seems categorically tragic.

Certainly I'm not saying I'm unhappy that The Darkness are once again a band, but I can't even begin to pretend that I'm okay with the possibility that Hot Leg isn't. Who knows, maybe I'll get lucky and in a year or so, I'll find out that J-Hawk isn't a man built for monogamy and a new Hot Leg record will find its way into my grubby little hands. And I suppose that, Darkness or Leg or British Whale or something else entirely, as long as Justin Hawkins is putting new music into the world, I'm going to be happy, but without Hot Leg, I'm not entirely sure I can be satisfied.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I've Never Been a Religous Man, but I've Recently Joined The Church of Rock and Roll, and I Think I Just May Be Saved.

I've bought my fair share of records over the past year and I can say that I have not passionately disliked any of them. Sure, some have simply been "not bad", but at least a decent chunk of them have been good, and some have in fact been quite good: Craig Finn's Clear Heart Full Eyes, Dawes' Nothing is Wrong, Florence + The Machine's Ceremonials, Surfer Blood's Tarot Classics, Wilco's The Whole Love, Explosions in the Sky's Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory, Cursive's I Am Gemini, Ryan Adams' Ashes & Fire...these are a few of the albums I've bought this year that I like. I am happy I own them.  I like them all and they will not go unlistened to, but as much as I may like all of them, I don't love any of them, and for me that's a problem.

Personally, I need to be obsessed with a record. I want to listen to a record and get excited about it ending so I can start it over again because it's just that good. I want to be engulfed by an album. I want it to destroy and remake me. I want to feel a little emptier when I'm not listening to it. I want to be consumed by it. This is who I am and when I don't have this I feel a little less like me. Just liking something a lot doesn't cut the sauce. Sure, I can always go back and listen to older albums I love and that levels me out enough, but it's never quite the same. Rediscovering an album might be awesome, but it's never quite as special as "discovering" it. And for the last 10 months of my life, I haven't heard anything new that's been good enough to be amazing, good enough to floor me, good enough to be obsessed with. But 29 days ago, I went to see The Darkness at St. Andrews Hall in downtown Detroit. Those Lowestoft, Suffolk boys killed it (not that there was any doubt they would...come on, it's The Darkness), but Foxy Shazam stole the fucking show.

Had you asked me 30 days ago what I thought of Foxy Shazam, I would have told you I don't listen to female rappers,  but then again that would have been 1 day before I watched Foxy Shazam blow the fucking doors off Saint Andrews Hall. Their live show is a spectacle, the songs rocked unbelievably hard and were catchy as all hell, Eric Nally was ridiculously funny, and that voice of his, it sounded bigger than life itself. But above all of that, watching them on stage, you knew you were watching Rock Stars; guys with too much bravado playing songs that were so huge they should be heard in stadiums instead of the relatively small venue I was watching them in. I don't felt like someone was letting me in on a big secret right before it was about be revealed to the world, like the guy who takes the final tally on votes for the Presidential election. Seeing them was like knowing something that would undoubtedly affect the world before the world knew they were going to be affected.

When I got home that night, I cracked open a beer and pulled up Spotify to make sure I heard what I thought I did. I suppose I wanted to make sure the carpet matched the drapes.  It didn't seem possible that a band that electric on stage could convert that energy onto tape (...probably a hard-drive). Within literally 1 second of "Holy Touch", I knew I needed this record. The next morning, I called my local record store (again, if you're in the Ann Arbor, Mi area, stop into Underground Sounds on Liberty between 4th and 5th, across the street from the post record store ever, the owner Matt not only knows his shit but is the shit) and ordered The Church of Rock and Roll. A week later, it arrived, and my life has been infinitely better ever since.

This album isn't just good, it's kind of everything. Sky White is Jim Steinman without the pretension, Loren Turner shreds as major as any other great guitar player from the last 2 decades but without fighting for center stage, and the rhythm section of Daisy Caplan (bass) and Aaron McVeigh (drums) coupled with the one-man horn section that is Alex Nauth that feels very Booker T. and the M.G.'s via Otis Redding. Then there's that voice. Eric Sean Nally is a quarter Freddie Mercury, a quarter Marvin Lee Aday (Meat Loaf), a quarter space alien and a quarter ringmaster at a seedy-ass circus, but wholly Eric Nally. No sound that big should ever come out of a man so small, yet it does and it's amazing.

Then there are the songs...they may on occasion be funny, but these songs are no joke. The relentless hooks of "Holy Touch" alone would make this record a worthwhile listen, but once you toss in the unstoppable rock drive of opener "Welcome to the Church of Rock and Roll", the gutter-gospel of "I Like It", the pop-rock swing of "Last Chance at Love", penitent sincerity of "Forever Together", the beautifully bitter-sweetness of "(It's) Too Late Baby", the no-nonsense swagger of "I Wanna Be Yours", the absolute rock genius of "Wasted Feelings" (my favorite song on the record), the plodding shredfest that is "The Temple", the R&B tinged groove of "The Streets" (my son Finn's favorite song on the album. He's only 1, but that song gets him bopping like nothing else), and the positively anthemic closer, "Freedom", with lyrics that run the gamut of the human condition: from completely inconsequential but entertaining to salaciously sleazy to tender, honest and poignant...Eric Nally knows how lay down a word or two and he makes sure to do it on every fucking song on The Church of Rock and Roll.

But for me, if there's one thing that makes this album matter more to me than any other record right now, it's that it just makes me feel good. I realize I have a lot to be thankful for: a loving wife, a beautiful and hilarious son, 2 incredible dogs, a great family, unbelievable friends, food in my belly and a roof over my head, but life is still really fucking tough. It's tough when you work 45 hours a week (sometimes 50, occasionally more, though that is relatively rare) and still can't make both ends meet. It's tough when you get home from work and it takes all the energy you muster just to keep both eyes open let alone be a functioning husband, father, and dog-father. It's tough when past mistakes and youthful indiscretions seem like they will follow you to the grave, and it's tough when you feel helpless and hopeless virtually all of the time. Life is hard, and when you're holding the short end of the stick, even a handful of hardcore pluses can't cancel out the multitude of minor negatives. Feeling good isn't easy, but it's a whole lot easier with Foxy Shazam.

Dealing with life is no simple task, not for me, not for the majority of the country.  But when The Church of Rock and Roll is spinning on my record player, I forget that I usually can't pay my bills. I forget that I'm overworked and underpaid. I forget that "The American Dream" is a big fucking lie and that hard work doesn't really pay off, it just gives you more stress. I forget that life is usually tough and remember that it also can be sweet. I watch my little man sitting on his knees bouncing to "Holy Tough", "(It's) Too Late Baby", "Wasted Feelings", or "The Streets", and it reminds me that even when things are bad, things can still be good. For a little over a half an hour, I remember that sometimes things rock even when things suck, and for me, that's certainly something worth remembering.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ashes & Fire

I've been listening to Ashes & Fire relentlessly for a few of weeks now, and I've been trying my damnedest to figure out just how to write about this thing, but it's been difficult because the record is a bit of a dichotomy. Musically and vocally, this record is candid and earnest which is pretty standard fare when it comes to Ryan Adams records, but there's a halcyon solemness that, while archetypal for Ashes & Fire, is atypical for Ryan Adams.

This record's the same, but it's different. It's the same, because when I listen to it I hear bits of Heartbreaker, Love is Hell and 29, pieces of Gold and Jacksonville City Nights, and the overall tone is congenial with Easy Tiger, the Follow the Lights ep, and Cardinology, but still, it's different, because even though it kind of sounds like of all of these records, when I just listen to Ashes & Fire instead of analyzing it's subtle intricacies, it doesn't really sound like any of the aforementioned records.

It's the same, because like nearly every other Ryan Adams song, the songs on Ashes & Fire are all about love and loss and failure, but it's different, because wherein the past Adams accepted the inevitable cruelties of life as cold, hard, unavoidable and insurmountable truths; brilliant songs ensconced in darkness and acquiescence, the songs on Ashes & Fire are almost acts of contrition. And above all else, Adams seems to be heavily investing in the idea that lights are always categorically at the end of tunnels.

It's the same, because like everything else Ryan Adams has done, this album ventures artistically into uncharted territory, but it's different, because in the past, Adams has always pushed himself stylistically, but on Ashes & Fire, Adams doesn't attempt to break any musical molds, it's pretty much just country-tinged folky kind-of Rock music. No, this time around Adams is pushing himself ideologically.

I recognized all of this, but I still couldn't help asking myself how Ashes & Fire can sound like the Ryan Adams we've known since he released the Angels ep with Whiskeytown a decade and a half ago, but feel like an album by a new man, until it occurred to me that, well, that's kind of exactly what Ashes & Fire is; the songwriter's the same, but everything else has changed.

Ryan Adams released one album as a solo artist without preconception or pretense; Heartbreaker was nothing more than what it was, a record by some guy most regular people had never heard of. It wasn't constrained by any outside quixotic notion of what it should or could be, it wasn't expected to break new barriers or to live up to anything because as a solo artist, there wasn't anything for it to live up to. But Heartbreaker, while maybe not an initially huge commercial success, was a critical coup for Adams that opened a lot of people's eyes to his abilities as a songwriter and musician. With a single record, Adams became this sort of critical paradigm of what was possible.

Adams spent the next 5 years of his career trying to live up to the artistic visage that Heatbreaker created, and spent the 3 after those first 5 placating his record label Lost Highway, releasing 2 records and an ep that, while are very good (Cardinology is deceptively exceptional), are also tacitly commercial. His entire output with Lost Highway was a mixed bag of sorts: one part self-actualization, self-acknowledgement, and adherence to his creative integrity, one part artistic bondage and (coerced) demiurgic concession.

It's our fault. The bottom line is we backed him into a corner. Fans, critics, his label all wanted him to live up to their expectations, and because he was slightly neurotic and his personal life was such a mess, he cared so much about what we thought of him because he had nothing else in his life to really care about. For his entire career with Lost Highway, he repeatedly tried to prove himself to us, and with each record, Adams got a little bit more jaded because no matter how good a record was, it always seemed to fall a little short of what we expected. He tried harder than any man ever should have to, and even though I think all of his records have been at least a tiny slice of genius, trying to be everything to everyone frustrated him to no end and pissed off a lot of people who were listening to the albums. We fucked him over for caring too much about what we thought, but on Ashes & Fire, he doesn't care anymore.

He's happily married and a published poet with his own recording studio and his own label. He's comfortable with himself now, and that's what makes Ashes & Fire so different from the rest of his catalog. He's not trying to prove himself to us, he frankly could give a fuck about us. He's just a guy who happens to be really good at writing and recording songs who decided to write and record some more songs. He's no longer a boy clamoring for attention and acceptance, he's a man who's accepted himself. Ashes & Fire is still Ryan Adams, he's just all grown up, and honestly, adulthood agrees with him.

Sure, I imagine that people who've listened to Ryan Adams and admired him for the musical risks he's taken might find Ashes & Fire a bit safe upon the first few listens, and in honor of full disclosure, I need to admit that I did. Certainly, Glyn Johns' production is sleek and polished, but it's also minimally intrusive, remarkably spacious, and frankly, quite breathtaking. And even if I was desperate to, it'd be hard for me to deny the fact that this record isn't anywhere near as musically adventurous as one might expect from an artist releasing his first crop of newly recorded material on his own label after spending so many years complaining as loudly as he did about label constraints, but lyrically, and again, ideologically, this is maybe as brazen and brutally honest as he's ever been. He's not using his scars as a crutch, shield, or sword, he's simply accepting them as fact and moving on, looking forward.

I can't say confidence that Ashes & Fire is Ryan Adams' best album, but it is the most honest he's been with himself in over a decade, and it's easily the most exposed, genuine, and unaffected record he's released since Heartbreaker, and there's absolutely nothing safe about that. Like I said, it's the same, but different. Superficially, Ashes & Fire may sound at first too close to what Adams has done in the past to feel comfortable with, but if you're willing and able to listen to this album with an attentive and objective ear, it's impossible not to hear that Ryan Adams is doing something really special here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lost Highway is a Bitch, or, Things That Suck Kind of Really Piss Me Off

I'll admit that Rock N Roll was not a work of staggering genius, but then again it was never meant to be. For Ryan Adams, Rock N Roll was a means to an end, meant to do little more than get record store shelves stocked with Love is Hell, two ep's that kind of are works of staggering genius. If you're a Ryan Adams fan, I assume you're as grateful for the release of Love is Hell, pts. 1 and 2 as I am, and because the release of the latter was entirely due to the recording of the former, I would also think that you would be at least a little grateful for Rock N Roll as well, but I would be wrong. In fact, I think the response to Rock N Roll may be solely responsible for derailing Ryan Adams' career, and if I'm being honest, that kind of pisses me off. Actually, it kind of pisses me off a lot, because there's absolutely no reason it should have.

Like I said, I don't suffer from any delusions about Rock N Roll, I'm more than aware of what it is: it's not the best thing Ryan Adams has ever released, it's not one of the best things Ryan Adams has ever released, it's not even the best thing that Ryan Adams released in 2003, but it's good. Outside of its intrinsic ties to Love is Hell, outside of the incredible pressure from the label and whirlwind creation of the record, Rock N' Roll is a good record.

It's 14 songs, not a single one bad, with at least a handful of quite good ones, and maybe even a few (or at least one) of the best he's ever written. "So Alive" is easily the closest thing to a perfect single that Adams has ever recorded. It's amazingly catchy, amazingly rocking, and if you ask me, sort of beautiful in a weird, not-quite-able-to-put-my-finger-on-it way. It isn't just one of the best singles of 2003, but probably one of the best of the last decade, maybe even of the last few.

"So Alive" aside, there are still a lot of great songs on Rock N' Roll."This Is It", "Luminol", "Do Miss America", "She's Lost Total Control", "Wish You Were Here", and the first appearance of "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?", these songs are all reasons to appreciate this album, or at least tolerate it, but mention Rock N Roll to the average Ryan Adams fan you'd think you'd dropped a particularly potent fart in a small, hot, crowded room. The reaction's almost visceral. People really don't like this album at all, and again, that kind of really pisses me off.

But I'm not angry that people don't like this album. I don't expect you to think it's as good as I do. If you're okay with being wrong, I'm okay with it too. Like it, don't like, I don't care one way or the other. What bothers me is that after the release of Rock N Roll, fans and critics expected, and I think almost wanted, Ryan Adams to fail. Before Rock N Roll, Adams was seen as the next great American songwriter. After Rock N Roll, Ryan Adams became just some guy who recorded a few pretty good records.

Before Rock N Roll, fans rushed out to buy the "new" Ryan Adams album because they couldn't wait to hear it. After Rock N Roll, fans waited to hear the "new" Ryan Adams album before they even entertained the idea of buying it. Fans bought Rock N Roll and they still bought all of the records that followed, but since 2003, they've approached every record with skepticism. Even though fans didn't feel right about bailing on him entirely, they didn't feel right about believing in him anymore either. Every album from Cold Roses on has been greeted with this sort of crossed-arm, prove-it-to-me cynicism. Fans are always willing to concede that the "latest" Ryan Adams album is good, whatever that album may be, but they never can imagine the follow-up will be worth its weight in shit.

Before Rock N Roll, critics wouldn't completely ignore the occasional inconsistency or slight misstep he made, but they'd write it off, gloss over it, explain it away, even embrace it because he was a critical darling and it proved he was in fact a man and not some musical demigod. The periodic odd choice made him human and all the more endearing. They saw Adams' records as flawed but brilliant, but after Rock N Roll came out, his albums suddenly became brilliant but flawed. The record could be genius, but rather than talking about the countless things that made it so good, reviews seem to focus on the one or two things that weren't. The overall reviews are still good. They're always 4 out of 5 stars or 7.5 out of 10, but when you read what the critic has to say about the record, the tone always feels like, "Okay, he managed to pull this one off and bought himself a little more time in the public eye, but the next one's bound to be awful." After Rock N Roll, reviews started to sound like a stay of execution..."We're letting him live a little longer." It's almost like they're amazed it's good.

And that sucks. It sucks because Ryan Adams is in fact probably the next great American songwriter. It sucks because in a world of music rife with fly-by-nights-but-gone-by-mornings, of pans and the flashes that occur in them, of gimmicks and gross inadequacy, Ryan Adams has consistently put out quality records. Sometimes they're unbelievable, sometimes they're just good, but they're always worthwhile. They're always better than 99% of anything else that's come out over the last decade and a half, but they're always under-appreciated. And that just sucks, and things that suck kind of piss me off a lot. But I can't begrudge the fans or blame the critics because this is all Lost Highway's fault.

Lost Highway fucked Ryan Adams. Really, from the get-go they fucked this guy: agreed to Adams' plans for Gold as a double album at a single disc price, and then at the last minute cut the last five songs and trimmed it down to a single disc and releasing it in its entirety as a "special, limited edition", with an inflated price-tag, indulged him with the recording of 3 albums over the course of 2002, and then destroyed the integrity of the work by dismantling the records and cut-and-pasting them together for Demolition. They repeatedly fucked him over and he wasn't too happy about it.

He had said that "to make Gold as a compromise only to have to watch those records get broken up for Demolition was heartbreaking." So when, after meticulously crafting it for a year, he presented Lost Highway with Love is Hell, a work that he said was the album he'd been trying to make his entire life, and they rejected it as not commercial enough, he was demoralized. Ryan Adams became bound and determined to get this music out there.Some thing he made a deal with the Devil, others think he's the Devil himself, but really, he just did what he had to do to avoid once again being marginalized by his label.

Rock N Roll was not some record he painstakingly worked on. It's an album that he wrote, recorded, and finished in only two weeks. Rock N Roll was essentially ransom for Love is Hell. He couldn't let them shelve it like they did 48 Hours, The Suicide Handbook and Ryan Adams and The Pinkhearts. He couldn't simply give in to the label, so instead he compromised. He gave them their marketable album in the form of Rock N Roll with the ultimatum that they only got it if they released Love is Hell too. And God bless him for that because I'm still livid that the possibility of my needle ever touching a record with "Walls" or "Angelina" on it is slim to none, a world without Love is Hell is a world that's just too weird to really want to be a part of. Sadly enough though, it was this double-barreled release that caused things to get ugly for Ryan Adams, and like I've already stated, it was all Lost Highway's fault.

Lost Highway may have agreed to release Love is Hell, but like so many times before, they fucked Ryan Adams, but this time it was the royal screw. By breaking up Love is Hell into two parts, they sent a message to fans, sure, but more importantly to Adams. They wanted to show Ryan Adams that he didn't concede by making Rock N Roll, but that they did by throwing him a bone and releasing Love is Hell. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew that Love is Hell was unimportant. Rock N' Roll was the main course, Love is Hell was a side dish. Rock N Roll was first class and Love is Hell was coach. Rock N Roll was the story, Love is Hell was a footnote.

They wanted to ensure that the highly promoted Rock N Roll would out sell the promotionless Love is Hell. They wanted Rock N Roll to have greater impact on the critics than Love is Hell. They wanted to show Ryan Adams that Rock N Roll was right and Love is Hell was wrong. They wanted to turn Ryan Adams into a multi-platinum selling superstar, but all they did was kind of fuck everything up for everyone, including themselves.

First off, Rock N Roll is easily Ryan Adams most niche album, and for a kind of stylistic chameleon, that's saying a lot. Lost Highway should have realized that Adams wasn't going to ever be an artist beholden to a specific style. Even if Rock N Roll had gone on to sell 3 million copies, Ryan Adams was never going to say, "Oh, hey, this album sold a lot so I should just do that over and over again". Because of how stylistically isolated it was from the rest of his catalog, anyone who jumped on the Ryan Adams train because of Rock N Roll would have immediately hopped off the second they heard Cold Roses. They were never going to create new Ryan Adams fans with Rock N Roll, they were at best going to make fans of one album who would be gone the second he released something new.

Meanwhile, all fans had wanted for years was for Ryan Adams to up the ante on Heartbreaker, the very thing that Love is Hell did. It was a return to the confessional singer/songwriter approach of Heartbreaker, but was much darker and moodier. Love is Hell should have satiated the hunger for his established, loyal fans, but it didn't.

Critics on the hand were looking for validation. For years, critics had praised Adams and wanted him to finally deliver the album that would without a doubt make them feel like their accolades weren't all in vain. Love is Hell should have provided the piece of mind, but once again, it didn't.

Love is Hell couldn't accomplish either of these feats because first, broken up into two parts, Love is Hell's impact was diluted. Regardless of how good the two ep's were, without the material presented in its envisioned and proper long-play format, the context was wrong, the pacing was off. The cohesion of the songs is one of it's greatest strengths, but with Love is Hell rendered asunder, there was no unity. In two ep's, you're only getting a part of the whole, and the whole is always going to be more affecting than a fraction of it. Second, having part 1 simultaneously released with Rock N Roll which was presented as a whole, it gave the listener the impression that Adams saw Love is Hell as a "less-than" piece, infuriating everyone and poisoning their minds against Ryan Adams, seeing him as a man who was just out to make a buck, leaving them unable to do anything but question every move Adams would make for what has so far been the remainder of his career.

But had Lost Highway let Adams win just this one, I think everything would have been different. Had Love is Hell been released as the follow-up to Gold (Demolition is a compilation album, and since compilations are not proper records, I don't consider Demolition to be Gold's follow-up.), and waited 10 months or a year to release Rock N Roll, I think Love is Hell would have reinforced and solidified fans and critics established opinions of Ryan Adams, so when Rock N Roll finally did surface, the record would have been seen as nothing more than the strange whim of an erratic genius and thus, would have been accepted by critics and fans, while still bringing those new customers into the fold.

It wouldn't have gained any more longterm fans for Adams or sold more records than it did, but Adams stature in the collective consciousness wouldn't have been effected; it may have even seemed more stalwart. Instead, Rock N Roll gave people the impression that Ryan Adams was just clamoring for the brass ring, a sycophant whose ultimate goal was to do nothing more than to fatten his coin purse. Lost Highway's ridiculous desires were projected onto Ryan Adams, giving him a false reputation he still hasn't been able to shake, and that's unfair, and disparity sucks, and things that suck kind of piss me off a lot.

Lost Highway ruined things and they know it. I don't think it's coincidence that neither of these albums have been in print on vinyl for almost a decade even though everything else Ryan Adams ever released on Lost highway is and these 2 records fetch serious coin on eBay. I don't think it's coincidence that, for the celebration of Lost Highway's 10th anniversary as a label, they announced they would finally reissue these albums only to mysteriously pull them from the roster of special edition vinyl releases days after Ryan Adams announced the release date of his first record of new material, Ashes & Fire, on his own label, Pax-Am, which fell smack-dab in the middle of the two.

Lost Highway knows they fucked things up, they just don't want us to know they know it. They limited Ryan Adams as an artist before Rock N Roll, and unfairly condemned him as a philistine because of Rock N Roll, and wrote him off after Rock n Roll. Lost Highway bungled his career, fundamentally tarnishing his reputation as an artist and leaving fans with a bad taste in their mouth that still lingers, all for the sake of making a buck. And the worst of it all is that Rock N Roll is still a pretty good record, it was ill-conceived, sure, and it was released at the worst possible time in the worst possible way under the worst possible circumstances, but it's still a pretty good album. But because of all of the bullshit, no one will ever be able to objectively listen to it, so no one will ever really know that. And you know, that sucks, and things that suck kind of really piss me off.