Three Times a Crybaby


Ryan Adams should quit reading his own reviews. He’s been dubbed a crybaby ever since (and probably before) he left a peevish message on Jim DeRogatis’s voice mail. Yeah, he later conceded to giving power to the criticism, but still he offered this to Pitchfork: “If someone calls [me] a really horrible name, and prints it, and has the balls to do it, I’ll fucking find their number!”

Too bad Adams doesn’t realize there’s no such thing as bad publicity—and the more he messes with the press, the greater the chances are that the press will mess back. Could this potentially infinite quarreling—given Adams’s on-again, off-again affair with the bottle and affinity for sad songs—send him spiraling into a self-destruction worthy of his antecedents Hank and Gram?

The cover art for the most recent of his three ’05 releases, 29, portends as much with its sketch of the grim reaper and co. at death’s front gate. Only Death here is the Dead, as in the Grateful Goddamn, whose “Truckin’ ” Adams five-finger-discounts for the title track. On this chiefly solo effort chronicling his twenties, Adams mines American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead respectably, but his attempts at early-’70s Neil Young piano ballads come off as tear-stained love letters to himself, and hardly distinguish him as the guy who dropped out of high school to become Paul Westerberg.

Though released last out of the three, 29 was recorded first, followed by Cold Roses—easily one of the finest modern classic-rock double-discs since Wilco’s Being There. The long strange trip begun on 29
continues here, but Cold Roses is looser and juicier because Adams employs, for the first time, backing band the Cardinals. And they free him up to spit out tongue twisters, raucously making something out of nothing: “All I wanna do is get up/Is get up/Is get up in the morning/In the morning and not wanna die.”

The fine-tuned twang of Jacksonville City Nights—released second but recorded last—is the best thing to happen to Roy Orbison and Lyle Lovett since Pretty Woman. Stunner “The End” tops the list of Adams’s many remembrances of the hometown he shares with the album’s title. While there’s no denying he’s a mimic, name a musician who isn’t. Recognize, instead, the leaps and bounds he made from album to double album to album. Now, if only he’d let the music that flows from him as freely as a tapped keg speak for its own damn self.