Gold, by Ryan Adams
In the early 2000’s, Ryan Adams achieved a breakthrough in his second album, “Gold,” which at sixteen songs long (one of them nearly ten minutes in length) showed a high degree of productivity from the former Whiskytown frontman. The album achieved a bit of a breakthrough in popularity because its opening track, “New York, New York,” was viewed as a post-9/11 anthem of resilience. And this album is certainly an appropriate introduction into the music of Ryan Adams and into his approach. And as one might expect, the album has all of the hallmarks that one would think of from someone for whom melancholy soaked with alcohol is his natural emotional range. And even though this album was a breakthrough and contains quite a few really great songs, the album is also full of a lot of red flags that listeners should have been aware of. This album reveals to the hundreds of thousands of people who bought and listened to this album that Ryan Adams was both aware of his self-destructive tendencies but that he tended to be somewhat cynical and opportunistic in preying on women with low self-esteem who could be counted on to put up with his nonsense, which was probably behavior someone should have called him on a lot earlier.
Given this album’s size, it is impressive just how many songs and how many different elements of alcoholic self-loathing and predation can fit on an album. But Ryan Adams tapped into a deep vein here and the songs just keep coming and coming. The album begins with an ode to New York in “New York, New York” expressing the singer’s love for the city and his own state of frustration with his life. Songs like “Firecracker” and “Answering Bell” show the singer in a mood of not wanting to commit to relationships and looking for sex without the strings of obligation, a bad tendency when it comes to intimacy. A couple of songs, “La Cienega Just Smiled” and “Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd,” show a love of Los Angeles to go along with the singer’s love of New York City. And in between there are songs that reveal the singer’s feelings about love and relationships in ways that should have bothered more people. “Sylvia Plath” expresses the singer’s desire for a lover like Sylvia Plath whose self-destructive tendencies would mirror his own. “Nobody Girl,” a song that goes on for nearly ten minutes, expresses the author’s thoughts about a girl who is viewed as being nobody important to others and thus a likely target for his own dubious charms. “When The Stars Go Blue” is a gorgeous but melancholy mid-album song that was later covered by The Corrs and Bono (showing their good taste in music), while “Gonna Make You Love Me” states the author’s conviction that his bad habits like drinking and drugs are only going to make a woman love him more.
In listening to the music of Ryan Adams, it is very clear that he did not feel it necessary to disguise his drinking and his view of love and relationships. Like many people, he shows some self-awareness and a struggle between hope and longing on the one hand and cynicism and abusive tendencies on the other. Those who listen to this particular album probably need to ask themselves what is it about this album that appeals. Adams is a talented songwriter and musician and the album has some strong production and there are certainly some good tunes here. But there are also a lot of very dark elements to be seen, showing that very early in his career Adams had a good idea of what kind of person he was and a disinclination of hiding or disguising it, trusting the reader to view his desire for exploiting insecure women with a high degree of tolerance. And for a long time the listening public was willing to do so, until one day for some reason they were not. It is hard to understand why these shifts take place given that the singer has shown us all who he was from the start.