by Trevor Kelley

Ryan Adams

lloR N kcoR


Love is Hell (Part 1 and Part 2)


Supposedly, the shortest sentence in the New Testament reads, "Jesus wept." When Ryan Adams moved to Los Angeles a couple years back to record his major-label debut, Gold, he never said he was going to be bigger than Jesus--well, at least not out loud--but we wept all the same. Damn, that record sucked.

This month, Adams released the official follow-up to Gold--an album called lloR N kcoR that was indeed supposed to be spelled backwards, and was as obvious and as misleading as such a title implies. As most reviews have already noted, the first thing Adams screeches on the record is, "Let me sing a song for you that has never been sung before," while launching in to one of the most obvious Replacements rip-offs you've ever heard. It doesn't help matters that he follows this with a blatant Smiths nod ("So Alive") and then an early Nirvana swipe ("1974") and then, well, a pretty great Sheryl Crow single ("Wish You Were Here"). But before you can hold the record up to a mirror to realize Adams' intentions, the man with the golden guitar will have fallen asleep at the wheel. When he comes to, Adams phones in a cameo from his actress girlfriend Parker Posey, which sounds as much like a cry for help as anything.

What's most concerning about all of this bedlam, though, is that it seems to be merely part of the plan. You'll probably hate all of the record on first listen. By your third or fourth spin, maybe you'll come around to about half of it. Give it a week, and you might even like a song as truly awful as the bar-band anthem "Note To Self: Don't Die." But none of this should come off as any sort of high praise, since just about all you can deduce from this stretching out over time is that Adams has either managed to pen a bunch of spectacular songs that make up an otherwise unspectacular record or that, as a listener, you're just getting used to the heartbreak. That's the problem with all Ryan Adams records: they seem just as confused as we do. The titles are backwards, except for when they're forwards, and even then they don't make any sense. To really drive the point home, the best song here is called "Rock N Roll." And it's a piano ballad.

Now if that's your thing, you're better off lying on your bedroom floor listening to Love Is Hell. Released as abridged bookends to his more radio-friendly main disc, the proverbial album here could have benefited from a different title--perhaps My A&R Guy Blew It, seeing as Adams' label rejected an early version of the record--but it's hardly lacking in material, as it finds Adams stumbling drunk down the same dark alleys that he used to know in a place called Whiskeytown. Combined, the pair of EPs make for Adams' most consistent record since Stranger's Almanac, all dusty waltzes and yellowing black-and-white snapshots of American beauty. When non-American Noel Gallagher heard the lucid version of "Wonderwall" that turns up on the first disc, he said he liked it better than the original. That makes two of us, mate, which is neither a bold claim nor a jab at the original. It's just a telling sign of how close Adams came to rediscovering his muse. Even when he goes pillaging through the past, he only ends up robbing himself; all mixed up and lost in a song he's now too confused to sing. On the brooding epic "Political Scientists," he bellows that "there's no guarantees," which could just as easily apply to burying something extraordinary behind something that suffers from being so incredibly ordinary. The songs on lloR N kcoR sound like they were written while hanging from the cross, which is why Love Is Hell feels so much like the resurrection you've spent years praying for. In the end, all the roads he has to walk are winding. But that doesn't mean he can't occasionally find his way.