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coverpic flag US - North Carolina - Full Moon 89 - 01/07/04

Ryan Adams
Love Is Hell Part 1
Lost Highway Records

Sometimes I can't quite imagine what is going on in the minds of record company executives. Even if things like an executive saying that "guitar bands are on their way out" as a response to a Beatles audition or the mismanagement of Big Star can be forgiven due to the general lack of knowledge of the public, in today's era of the internet and mass media they should really know better than repeat such blunders. And yet, as can be seen from their treatment of Ryan Adams, executives (and especially those at Lost Highway Records) haven't really learned anything. On November 4 2003 Lost Highway records simultaneously issued two albums by Ryan Adams: an official album Rock'N'Roll, and an unofficial EP Love Is Hell Part 1.

I happened to listen to R'N'R a few days after it came out in a listening station at a record store (after being exposed to Ryan Adams a few weeks before and being interested in his new album) and I found it to sound a bit too much like a tribute album to the Strokes. As the Strokes are doing a sort of tribute music themselves the final result is that the album sounds like a tribute to a tribute band, and no matter how catchy or rocking the songs are, the listener still leaves thinking that someone else has done it much better before.

It was that same day that I learned of the existence of the "other" Ryan Adams release, namely Love Is Hell, the album that Adams wanted to release officially but due to management and record company decisions was relegated to second string and randomly divided into two parts. Why did they do it? The rumours say that the executives thought Love Is Hell to be too depressing and sounding too much akin to the Smiths and Jeff Buckley to be properly released. I was definitely intrigued, and after hunting through a few record stores I finally found a copy of the EP and listened to it.

First of all, the 'EP' is about 33 minutes long, which is about as long as each White Stripes/Strokes album, so not only is it not being released properly it also suffers from terrible marketing and a wholly wrong image. Second of all, none of the songs sounds related to the Smiths in any direct way. The atmosphere of the album (not EP) might be drowsy and depressing enough to help the listener feel the London fog much like any Smiths album, but saying that the two are very similar would be misleading. What it does sound like is Wilco and Joseph Arthur with a tinge of Coldplay and Oasis.

None of the songs on Part 1 is quite the same as the other ones, and the variety does Adams only good as he has a chance to showcase his many talents. Although the first track "Political Scientist" is a bit too similar to the first track of Coldplay's last album (A Rush of Blood to the Head) "Politik", it is quickly forgotten in the ensuing multifaceted melancholy that Adams constructed. The songs differ between the slower ballad type ones such as "Afraid, Not Scared" with its heartbreaking chorus vocals, and the faster guitar oriented songs such as the title track with its reverberated guitar work and "World War 24" with its memorable riff. A Track that would capture the attention of pretty much anyone listening to this album who hasn't lived under a boulder for the past ten years is Ryan Adams' cover of the Oasis song "Wonderwall". Adams uses Noel Gallagher's lyrics, but takes away all of the brashness of the vocals and the extremely familiar chord progression, replacing them with slow meditative vocals and gentle fingerpicking. He is left with a song that is as full of emotional impact as the original one was and just as endearing and affecting only in a different way, as a folk-rock epic.

Love Is Hell Part 1 is infinitely better than its twin release Rock'N'Roll because of the fact that in it Ryan Adams actually manages to mould a formula to fit what he has to say, as opposed to fit what he has to say into the formula. It is a record of heart and superb musicianship, hopefully to be repeated in Love Is Hell Part 2, and in future Ryan Adams releases, unless his label will make him record bubblegum pop instead.

P.S. In a further bout of irony, the best song from the Love Is Hell session is not even included in the finished product. The song "Halloween" plays itself out to be the epitome of Ryan Adams' imaginative imagery, wrapped up in a bouncy subdued piano tune. Although it is not on the final record (once again a decision in the executive level), it is possible to get it through on the Internet and it is definitely recommended.

Copyright © 2004 Dan Ershov e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Ryan Adams article/review: Heartbreaker.

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