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Rhythm & Views

Ryan Adams

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Poor Ryan Adams. It's no coincidence that more than one of his songs talk about firecrackers; he's exploded onstage more than once, throwing out enough shrapnel to make any spectacle-starved journalist a little slap-happy. For example: as a joke, a concertgoer in Tennessee shouts out a Bryan Adams song as a request; Adams stops the show, pulls 30 bucks out his pocket and tells the guy to leave.

Once the fairly unknown borderline personality behind Whiskeytown and the wunderkind of the alt.country scene, Adams somehow blasted himself into the glittery world of Winona Ryder and MTV late last year with his second solo record, Gold, and now, more attention seems to be paid to his antics than his songs. To make matters worse, the songs just aren't nearly as good. The most recent example: Demolition, a collection of demos culled from five recording sessions over the past two years, released to give the adoring fans something to gnaw on until Love is Hell, his follow-up to Gold, comes out in March. Many tracks can be heard on a WB show near you.

Sellout and success stories aside, Adams still remains a prolific songwriter, proving that yes, you really can make three simple chords sing a thousand songs. Keeping in mind that these are demos helps make the album seem a little better than it is, but just because songs are "just demos" isn't an excuse for mediocrity. If a song is good, it should sound good even as a demo.

Adams has four modes of songs: There's the Dylan-esque ballads (most of Heartbreaker falls into this category), the anthemic power pop (Gold's "New York, New York" even has saxophones!), the upbeat country-style ditties (a la Whiskeytown), and the just plain sappy, which can sometimes be combined with any of the other modes. Demolition has a couple of each. "Nuclear" is Adams in anthem mode, and it's just hard to take seriously a song that sings about the Yankees losing to the Braves; it sounds like Adams smoked six packs of cigarettes and screamed at several taxicabs before recording the vocals. "Jesus Don't Touch My Baby" and "Cry on Demand" are just plain sappy, complete with slowly played piano. "You Will Always be the Same" and "Tomorrow" are in Dylan-mode, and by far the two best songs on the record; they offer an even balance of guitar and vocals, holding back just enough to make the emotion more honest. There's no excuse for "Tennessee Sucks"; the title raises expectations, but the song doesn't even deliver junk mail.

Adams's best songs are the ones that don't try anything fancy, that don't get wrapped up too much in the emotion fueling the song. So one would think, since Adams is basically a song factory, that his demos would be more stripped down, and that there would be less potential for the sappiness to seep in. But, unfortunately, that's just not the case; here's hoping that for his next record, producer Scott Litt manages to scrape off some of the cheese in production.

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