Ryan Adams – Love Is Hell

Love Is Hell (2004)


1. Political Scientist 2. Afraid Not Scared 3. This House Is Not For Sale 4. Anybody Wanna Take Me Home (Long Version) 5. Love Is Hell 6. Wonderwall 7. The Shadowlands 8. World War 24 9. Avalanche 10. My Blue Manhattan 11. Please Do Not Let Me Go 12. City Rain, City Streets 13. I See Monsters 14. English Girls Approximately 15. Thank You Louise 16. Hotel Chelsea Nights


Love Is Hell? Yeah, more like LISTENING TO THIS ALBUM is hell if you ask me!!!

Hehe. Oh, Prindle. How we miss you.

Recorded before Rock N Roll, Lost Highway rejected Love Is Hell and asked Ryan to come up with something a little less reliant on droning monotony. And Ryan was all like, “Fuck you, I’ll record something even worse!” Thus, Rock N Roll was born, which Ryan delivered on the condition that Lost Highway also release Love Is Hell, which they agreed to do under the condition that it be split up into two separate EPs. The EPs were released in late 2003 before finally being combined into a full album in May 2004.

Unfortunately, these run of the mill record company machinations are a lot more interesting than the album itself. During the lead up to its release, Ryan mused on its similarities to Heartbreaker, but the two records share almost nothing in common besides containing a number of sad songs. If anything, I would compare it structurally to Gold, in that they’re both 16-track, stylistically-driven marathons. But where Gold was a glitzy tour through 70s classic rock and singer-songwriter fare, Love Is Hell evokes a certain style of despondent 80s alt-rock, landing somewhere between the Smiths, Radiohead, and a guy falling asleep in front of a piano. It’s also far more inconsistent than Gold, or, more accurately, more consistently lame and boring.

In some ways this is an even more painful experience than Rock N Roll, despite being much more eminently listenable. The reason being that Rock N Roll was a hastily crapped out toss off that was always going to suck from the moment Ryan plugged in and started tunelessly hacking away at his Gibson, and the artist himself didn’t seem to give too much of shit about whether or not that was true. Love Is Hell, on the other hand, was clearly labored over and yet still sucks. It also has an Oasis cover.

Actually, this subdued, forlorn recasting of “Wonderwall” is easily one of the album highlights, and was the only Ryan Adams song my girlfriend ever heard before she met me, so I guess it has gained some sort of traction with the general populace outside of Ryan’s normal fan base. Good for him! The sad part is that the simplistic Gallagher lyrics are far more pleasing to listen to than the unyielding sad sackery on display throughout the remainder of the album. Lyrics like “I’m really dying here” and “He hears the phone and he knows his brother’s dead” come across as contrived, forced gloom, whereas Heartbreaker and The Suicide Handbook seemed heartfelt and genuinely emotional.

And there I go again with questioning Ryan’s sincerity when I don’t like a particular record of his. Dammit. Kick me in the head as punishment if you see me on the street! The point is that the lyrics are incredibly one-noted (except for the opening “Political Scientist,” which espouses some sort of half-baked conspiracy theory about how “the government supplies the cocaine.” Shit, did I forget to review Ryan’s 2002 release 9/11 Was An Inside Job and Other Love Songs?), and the music is even more so. This is as much the fault of the sound as the songs. The co-production by Ryan and John Porter, who is best known for producing all the Smiths albums (oh yeah, by the way, Ryan idolizes Morrissey. This might explain a few things), is frankly alienating. They seemed to have been going for a British, Joy Division-y cold, austere vibe, but this style only serves to cloud up this assortment of uneventful piano ballads and mopey dirges. Too much heavy verb and muddy low end makes for a positively dreary listen; songs like the closing soul ballad “Hotel Chelsea Nights” (which Ryan attempts to rescue with a commanding vocal performance) and the building coda of “The Shadowlands” are crying out for a warmer, more organic-sounding production style. Other songs are beyond salvaging; “Avalanche” sounds like the absolute schmaltziest and uncreative R.E.M. song of all time, and “Afraid Not Scared” sounds like any Radiohead song played on acoustic guitar without all the electronic accoutrements – in other words, the most boring and dull thing of dullness ever. And why the HELL is there a shitty song on here that was already on Rock N Roll?!? That was a worse decision than getting cancer. Furthermore, it sure doesn’t help that EVERY GODDAMNED SONG is played at THE SAME LUMBERING MID-TEMPO SPEED. Someone give this guy a kick in the adrenaline sack!

Fortunately, there are a couple of redeemable tracks here – dark finger-picker “I See Monsters,” the anthemic (but, you guessed it, mid-tempo) title track, and best of all, the winkingly Dylanesque strummer “English Girls Approximately,” which features Marianne Faithfull on backing vocals and is the record’s sole moment of buoyancy, but of course out of nowhere ends with a bridge in a freaking MINOR KEY. He just couldn’t help himself. Cheer up, Ryan! And be glad 2003 is over! You sure wrote a lot of crappy songs that year!

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