Jacksonville City Nights

I could just start with my review of Jacksonville City Nights, Ryan Adams' latest album, but I feel that it's important to know a little bit of my history with Ryan, as I like to call him when I'm having endless conversations with him in my mind. To put things in perspective, in a way.

Gold was the first album I owned. I love it right away. It started happy, poppy even(dare I say rocking?), but then got slowly more introspective, with beautiful, breathtaking songs like "La Cienega just smiled" and the masterpiece "Sylvia Plath". Afterwards the songs become more bare, bluesy, stay wonderful.

Of course, after this album, I went back to the previous one, Heartbreaker, and the song "Damn, Sam, I love a woman that rains", a song even more poetic than the title, stole my heart.

As an aside, this is where I can finally explain the name of this blog. I listened to "Damn, Sam" a hundred times, maybe more, but somehow I misremembered a lyric. Instead of "I am as calm as a fruit stand in New York and maybe as strange", I thought the text was "I am as cool as a fruit stand"etc.

I stuck to it, because the lyric spoke to me. I could imagine a fruit stand in New York being cool. It's strange, yes, out of place, but to me the idea of a fruit stand in New York represented being odd and knowing it, eccentric but interesting, a bit sad maybe but poetic.

I'd like to think of this blog as being cool in the same way a fruit stand in New York is cool. I'd even like to think of myself as seeing that, but that's probably too ambitious, too pretentious even.

One last thing before I stop talking about the name, I am aware that fruit stand is written like that, with two words, and not as one like in the title of my blog. It's actually petty revenge. In the Netherlands, words should be written as one word as often as possible, but the influence of English on the language made sure that people don't do this any more. So I figured, if Dutch can be written apart, English can be written together.

It does look uneducated though. I might change it later. But for now, I'm sticking to my guns.

I liked Demolition a lot too, despite the lack of coherence (it is a collection of loose tracks, so it's kind of natural it seems like a random collection). I especially liked Dear Chicago, with the lines:

She picked me up on Friday.
Asked me if she reminded me of you.
I just laughed and lit a cigarette,
said, "That's impossible to do."
Then, two albums came out at once, and obviously, like the fangirl I am, I bought them both. And both reminded me of why I like Ryan Adams so much: he is so consistently good, and at the same time so versatile.

One of the albums was Rock N Roll. And rocking it was. The story i've read is that the record company wasn't too enthusiastic about Love is Hell, and Ryan made this album in a week or two to spite them. Or something. Anyhow, it shows how gifted a songwriter he is. There's a song that sounds like U2, one that sounds like the Strokes (called "This is it")... Some reviewers complained that he had lost his own voice, that the songs were derivative, but I like to see it more as a style exercise, very much an arrogant "look what I can do!", but with such great results, who can complain? There are soms gems on this album like on the others. "Rock N Roll", ironically, is the calmest, saddest even, tired but beautiful. And "Wish you were here" is one of the most singable Ryan Adams songs.

And Love is Hell, well, I don't think there's any album I've played more often. I was originally planning to be smart and to wait for the release of the combined Love is Hell 1 & 2, but I heard the "Wonderwall" cover on part 1 and I just had to have it, right away. It truly is an amazing cover, not just giving the song a new interpretation, a new feeling, but reposessing the song. If after reading this you decide to download just one song, that Wonderwall cover is what I'd recommend. It's not the only great song on the two Love is Hell, though, oh no. Nearly every song is perfect here, many of them so bare and atmospheric they suck you in and refuse to let you go. "I see monsters", "Political Scientist", "the Shadowlands", "My Blue Manhattan", actually, there really isn't any song I'd like to exclude, excepting maybe one of the bonus tracks, which is overly distorted.

Love is Hell, is, basically, Ryan Adams gone experimental. The Cd(s) have been compared to Radiohead, but I personally believe it is better than anything Radiohead's ever done. So you understand that I was a bit disappointed with Cold Roses.

Oh, it's not that I didn't like the songs, didn't enjoy them, didn't think they were better than 99.9% of the music around...but the music didn't really touch me, to use a corny phrase. They didn't do anything to me, left me, honestly, a bit cold. And most importantly, the CD didn't see, to offer anything new, anything innovative.

I have to admit, the CD grew on me. Some songs started to stand out, after a while, even if at first all songs sounded like more of the same. "Now that you're gone", especially, but also "Meadowlake Street", "Mockingbird" and "Friends". And well, Ryan Adams in his less creative songs still writes songs that anyone else can be jealous of.

And now, there it is. Ryan's second of three albums coming out this year. "Jacksonville City Nights". And after listening to the first five, six, I really started to wonder if Ryan and I were in trouble.

Let me emphasize that the problem is not the quality of the songs. It's a musically accomplished album, with some lyrics that are pure poetry. It's just the genre. I have a couple of Whiskeytown albums on my iPod and I listen to them from time to time, but country music really isn't my thing, and this CD is, well, twangy.

It could be said I'm being unfair. After all, one of the things I like and admire most about Ryan Adams is his versatility, and now it seems like I'm blaming him for trying something just because it's in a genre I don't like. And although I could argue that country music was what he started with, and that this makes this a turn back rather than progression, it's a valid criticism.

I just really don't get into country.

I'd already decided I'd just wait to see if the third album was good, and forget this one existed. But then I heard Silver Bullets.

It's a gorgeous song. Vintage Ryan Adams, with a little bit of a country inflection, but fitting here, and not too obvious. And with the renewed confidence I got from that song, some other after it didn't seem too bad. "September" for example, has great lyrics. "Withering Heights" is also good. And the closing song, "Don't fail me now", is great.

I'm still not sold on the album. It's definitely my least favorite Ryan Adams so far. But still, two really good and two reasonably good Ryan Adams songs are something to be happy about.

And the third album? Please Ryan. Don't fail me now.


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