Ryan Adams – Gold

Gold (2001)


1. New York, New York 2. Firecracker 3. Answering Bell 4. La Cienega Just Smiled 5. The Rescue Blues 6. Somehow, Someday 7. When The Stars Go Blue 8. Nobody Girl 9. Sylvia Plath 10. Enemy Fire 11. Gonna Make You Love Me 12. Wild Flowers 13. Harder Now That It’s Over 14. Touch, Feel & Lose 15. Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ 16. Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd.


Much like my penis, this album is much too long and came at a bad time.


This was supposed to be Ryan’s grand launch into superstardom. Indeed, Gold seemed to have all the makings of a mega-hit: massive press coverage, the hype that resulted from said press coverage and the residual critical adoration of Heartbreaker, and an oh-so-provocative cover that looks like an inversion of the Born In The U.S.A. cover. Unfortunately for Ryan, an upside-down Old Glory proved to be no match for Bruce Springsteen’s ass. It was critically praised and sold well and all, and is to date the only Ryan Adams album to fulfill its presumptive title and go gold anywhere in the world (it did so in the UK). But it didn’t launch Ryan’s career to another level like it was supposed to. Blame 9/11 if you want, and the album being released two weeks to the day after the attacks didn’t exactly help album sales (no, not because of the terrorist attacks, but because it just couldn’t compete with Nickelback’s ultra-mega-fantastic Silver Side Up, released on September 11, 2001! Coincidence?!?!?). It did, however, singlehandedly cause the album’s first single, the skiffle-y “New York, New York” and its accompanying video featuring a cameo by the Twin Towers filmed just days before they came tumbling down get a boatload of airplay at the time. So I tend to think Gold’s failure fulfill the marketing that told us it would miraculously make alt-country bigger than dubstep ten years before dubstep has less to do with the circumstances surrounding the album’s release than it does with the music itself. Which, despite featuring mostly good songwriting, is overslick, pandering, and at times painfully derivative.

And you’ll have to trust me when I say that I would never denigrate Gold simply because it doesn’t snugly fit within my or anyone else’s definition of alt-country. A lot of folks who had been fans of Ryan going back to his days in Whiskeytown seemed to bail on him for this very reason, and those people are idiots. However, unlike other 90s alt-country stalwarts like Jeff Tweedy and Brent Best who were able to mature and diverge from the strict alt-country path in interesting ways, Ryan’s idea of branching out is to go full on retro rock and basically just pretend it’s 1973. Some of these tunes, including a few that I loved on The Suicide Handbook like “Firecracker” and the Van Morrison-ish “Answering Bell,” are given these really obvious 70s singer-songwriter arrangements—you know, strummed acoustic guitars, omnipresent Hammond organ, unthreateningly distorted lead guitar, the works—that are so clichéd it becomes hard to take the songs seriously. The production/mix removes all life and spontaneity from the proceedings, rendering even many of the good songs dull as dirt. Even Ryan’s voice sounds neutered, having became a quavering, roof-of-the-mouth mew. Oh, and did I mention it’s 70 MINUTES LONG?? WHY GOD WHY

Look, I’m not gonna sit here and tell you this thing completely sucks. There are a few features of it that I find offensive, sure, like that, once again, horribly clichéd “gospel” choir of black backup singers that pops up on a couple of songs, or the tasteless Exile On Main St. send-up “Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin.’” Like I said, underneath the plastic production and the obvious arrangements, most of the tracks are solid songwriting efforts. “Where The Stars Go Blue” later became a hit for Tim McGraw, which you can interpret any way you’d like (me, I like the tune, and I’d love to write a hit for Tim McGraw. It would sure as hell pay the bills, and at least I wouldn’t be writing for this asshole). You may also be surprised to learn what my two favorite songs on the album are: the near 10-minute admonition “Nobody Girl,” which has a neat and relatively unconventional chord sequence (at least compared to the rest of this album and its unimaginative masses of I, IV, V, vi, and iii chords that Woody Guthrie copyrighted sometime in the 1940s) and a bit of real guitartical bite to it. And while one would think an emotional piano-and-strings ballad called “Sylvia Plath” would sweep the Pretentious Awards and win a lifetime achievement award for Most Pretentious Piece Of Crap Ever, it’s got a beautiful melody, and Ryan winningly does a piss-take with the lyrics, poking fun at people who romanticize the idea of hanging out with dead suicidal poets and the like: “She’d ash on the carpets/And slip me a pill/Then she’d get me pretty loaded on gin/And maybe she’d give me a bath/How I wish I had a Sylvia Plath.”

But ultimately, Gold is a bloated and shallow work masquerading as a big, important, eclectic double album. I think the difference between Ryan at his best and Gold can be summed up by the difference between two songs about two different cities but about the same girl: The Suicide Handbook’s “Dear Chicago” and Gold’s “New York, New York.” At the end of “Dear Chicago,” he devastatingly intones: “New York City, you’re almost gone/I think I’ve fallen out of love… with you.” In “New York, New York,” he offers the much more convenient (and much less effective) “Hell, I still love you New York.” At the risk of disavowing my native New Yorker status (the punishment for which, of course, would be death by having 400 H&H bagels stuffed up my anus), I am compelled to issue this decree: I like “Chicago” better.

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