N Roll (Lost Highway)
Ryan Adams makes me crazy. With each disc I decide I can’t
stand him, then succumb to the record in spite of myself.
With his new release, Rock N Roll, Adams has moved
further from Heartbreaker and his early work with Whiskeytown:
He finally rocks, and it’s about bloody time. The hooks still
soar and the melodies plead, but this is bolder and more fun
than his previous efforts, and is certainly less sad, cranky
The album rockets out of the gate with the feverish “This
Is It,” a declaration of arrival at rock-&-roll cool.
His first words, “Let me sing a song for you/That’s never
been sung before,” are right—this is not like his other songs
It’s true that Adams works very hard to look like a rocker,
but until now he’s not had much to go on except a big mouth,
stories of substance abuse and simply trying too hard. And
for Rock N Roll, he shamelessly stole from influences—and
consciously referenced bands—ranging from T. Rex to Joy Division.
It is, however, hard to tell if this is cheeky larceny, an
attempt at outdoing his light-fingered peers, or homage.
The first single, “So Alive,” is perfect early U2 (when Bono
still had a soul), matched with melodies ripped from the Smiths,
all tied up with a weird honky-tonk piano outro. Since the
first track on Heartbreaker, “Argument With
David Rawlings (Concerning Morrissey),” we knew he had his
Morrissey chops, and here he proves it. Actually, his two
new gloom opuses, Love Is Hell Part I and Part II,
are apparently where he gets his Moz on for real, but that’s
another review. This sound is reprised on the more subdued
“Anybody Want to Take Me Home.”
And as proof that he’s ready to let loose, you’ll find actual
feedback on songs like “Note to Self: Don’t Die,” which blazes
with sludgy low-end guitars and grizzly vocals. A few albums
ago, a song with that title might have just moped about suicide,
but not here.
Oddly, the record’s title track is a somber piano song of
rocker burnout, self-doubt and the familiar theme of lovelorn
depression. It’s also here that he tries to channel the Replacements’
“Answering Machine” by looping what sounds like a message
saying “I miss my best friend.” The song is decent, but its
inclusion seems cheaply ironic, and the emotion is lost between
The album has its share of dumb thunder and gratuitous guitar
harmonies, and lyrically it can be a snoozer (see “1974”).
But I got over the idea that Ryan Adams was supposed to be
profound when I became tired of his verbose whining.
Liner notes reveal weird cameos from Billie Joe Armstrong
(Green Day) and Melissa Auf Der Maur (Hole), the carefully
arranged contents of his wallet, and a shout-out to NYC bar
Niagara—go say hi.
He may still need to get over himself, but if nothing else,
Rock N Roll is freewheeling and spirited without hesitation—not
to mention ripe for radio play. With Adams, it’s give in or
give up, and for now I’m in. But does that mean I have to
buy into his new alt-metal band, Werewolph, too?
Surrealistic Pillow; After Bathing at Baxter’s; Crown of Creation
Remastered, expanded and anno-tated, the first four albums
by Jefferson Airplane—Takes Off, Surrealistic Pillow, After
Bathing at Baxter’s and Crown of Creation—reveal
the ascent and peak of one of the only ’60s San Francisco
bands to have all of the members from their prime lineup still
alive (not that re-forming would be a good idea).
Off, from 1966, barely hints at what was to come, being
more in step with the day’s folk-rock. The next year’s Surrealistic
Pillow marked the arrival of Grace Slick and drummer Spencer
Dryden—everything was now in place. While the album contained
their two biggest chart hits, “Somebody to Love” and “White
Rabbit,” it took until the end of the year and After Bathing
at Baxter’s for this uneasy alliance of six musicians
to start firing on all cylinders.
Unapologetically experimental in total, it’s filled with songs
that stir by their innovative sonic architecture. In particular,
bassist Jack Casady (whose idiosyncratic rumblings can be
heard in the otherwise-common arrangements of their debut)
is a ferocious presence, and Jorma Kaukonen is fully flowered
as a soloist.
of Creation, in 1968, coalesced the experimentation around
a great set of songs. The three-vocal frontline (Slick, Marty
Balin and Paul Kantner) is a stunning force on the title song,
while Balin, his leadership slipping, turns in a couple of
his last great performances with the band on “Share a Little
Joke” and “If You Feel.” Kantner was yet to get too carried
away with revolution and spaceships, a turn that has dated
much of his subsequent writing. Unfortunately, Slick is on
the cusp of annoyance, with “Lather” being nothing but empty
calories in a pretty package.
The five Airplane albums that followed started with the superb
live Bless Its Pointed Little Head and near-peak Volunteers.
The band unraveled rapidly thereafter, so catch them on their
way up with these first four.
(One Little Indian/Birdman)
Greg Dulli is that smarmy guy in the corner at a party, sipping
on a martini and carrying on with just about everybody in
the room without ever actually making eye contact. You know,
the guy who’s always waiting to make his move. On Blackberry
Belle, the latest release under his Twilight Singers moniker,
he continues doing what he does best: singing about fucked-up
people doing fucked-up things. Unlike in his previous band—the
late, great Afghan Whigs—Dulli is the only constant Twilight
Singer, which allows him to follow his whim down whatever
dank alley it might take him, and on Belle, it brings
him to a new career high—or low, depending on how you look
On Blackberry Belle, Dulli has ditched most of the
programmed beats and electronic blips of 2000’s Twilight
in favor of a more organic live-band feel, courtesy of a host
of guest players, including multi-instrumentalist Mathias
Schneeberger and Mark Lanegan, whose unmistakable whiskey-damaged
baritone turns up on set-closer “Number Nine.” Written and
recorded in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Memphis, these 11
songs play out like the soundtrack to an unsettling dream.
“You wanna go for a ride?” Dulli shouts on the cleverly titled
“Teenage Wristband,” and you almost want to go along with
him, even though you know he’s definitely not headed for the
nice part of town. Although “Fountain and Fairfax” (from the
Whigs’ 1993 LP, Gentlemen) is still Dulli’s best song,
his writing on Belle is more consistent than ever and
his vocals are at their apex. This one is worth seeking out,
if only for the skittering, funky ode to nastiness, “Fat City
(Slight Return),” on which he asks, “Why you watch a carwreck,
muthafucker?” The answer: “Cuz it looks fun to die.” Through
Greg Dulli’s twisted worldview, I guess it does.
This Is the
The title track of Yo La Tengo’s six-song EP, “This Is the
Day,” is a muscled-up version of a song from their recent
Summer Sun album. Far from being merely a single padded
out to keep attention focused on the larger work, this set
is a perfectly balanced short-form offering with character
all its own. As a sort of flipside to the more luxuriating
tempos of the aforementioned Sun, this one comes out
punching. And it picks the pace up from there, as “This Is
the Day” gives way to the ferociously undulating “Styles of
the Times,” followed by the mesmerizingly pounding “Outsmartener.”
Tipping into the second half, the volume falls away as Georgia
Hubley steps forward to sing Bert Jansch’s “Needle of Death,”
acoustically of course. Plugging back in, but keeping it airy,
the instrumental “Dr. Crash” drifts away as the acoustic “Cherry
Chapstick” closes out the disc. Twenty-three minutes, all
the major food groups—eat right to keep fit.