Apparently, Ryan Adams was once a rocker. This, I could barely guess from listening to his newest release, Demolition — despite the deceitful first track, which sort of rocks — and by “rocking” I mean it has a back beat and distorted guitars– With a few exceptions, the rest of the album sounds more like David Gray playing alone in a hotel room than it does The Vines twanging away in a London basement. Of course this might have to do with the fact that Demolition is not a real album: in a figurative way, it is a collection of songs recorded in hotel rooms. Over the past years Adams recorded a litany of demos between and on tours, the best of which spawned this new album.
Unfortunately, the best of 65 songs recorded over a long period of time do not necessarily fit together organically as an album — Adams’ effort being no exception. The album is more of a clandestine compilation than a tight unit of songs; it lacks direction.
There are, however, a few very pretty songs. Indeed, “You Will Always be the Same,” which sounds a bit like a Paul McCartney guitar ditty during the White Album sessions, is fetching. Its finger-picked acoustic guitar and Adams’ clear voice softly singing thoughtful lyrics fit the beautiful simplicity of its central theme. At points Adams reminds us of Paul Simon. The refrain of “Desire” sounds like something straight out of Graceland — it only lacks the African backup chorus.
All of “Dear Chicago” sounds exactly like a Simon tune, and would be a candidate for catchiest song of the album if halfway through the words “I think I’ve fallen out of love” weren’t repeated over and over. Of course, this isn’t all Adams’ fault; they should have been purged from all songwriting long ago.
“Chin Up, Cheer Up” offers a pleasant change of pace with the well-put-together country sound of acoustic guitars, vocal wailing, pedal steel and slide guitars. And then there are Adams’ confused insertions of rock songs: “Starting to Hurt” and “Gimme a Sign.” They are uninteresting, and in brief, detrimental to the album as a whole.
Even in outlining the highlights of the album, I have also pointed to a serious flaw: all the good songs are good because they sound like other good songs, written by other good musicians. I suppose there isn’t anything horribly wrong with that — the album has its moments. But there isn’t anything special about it, and on the flip side, it’s riddled with cliches. In the end, it just comes off as lazy. Why, at the height of a career, put together a compilation of songs that didn’t make it to albums to begin with? And if all of his best bad stuff has already been released, how will Adams’ estate make money when he is dead?