Friday, September 18, 2009

Ryan Adams - Destroyer

Ryan Adams at The Catalyst, from the HAD Archive

For many frustrated Ryan Adams fans, Heartbreaker is still the high watermark of his prolific career. The record has a certain intimacy and immediacy that simply hasn't carried over to his other records. What's more, it's probably the only example of Adams' managing to successfully edit his output and deliver a collection of bulletproof songs that exemplifies his mind blowing songwriting abilities. The subsequent releases, while certainly having strengths, always have an eyebrow raising moment, or simply lack the depth of Heartbreaker. As such, the holy grail for critics and fans alike has been the possibility that Adams release the "next Heartbreaker" and finally ascend to his throne of Bob Dylan-like greatness. The irony is that the record already exists: it's just that you haven't heard of it.

In the year 2000 Adams recorded Heartbreaker with musical duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings backing him up. Ethan Johns produced the record, and the rest is history. In short, it allowed Adams to live up to all the promise that had filtered through the drunken haze of Whiskeytown. However, less well known is that shortly before this Adams had joined the exact same team to create Heartbreaker's predecessor, entitled Destroyer. Unfortunately , Geffen/Interscope claimed rights to the record (at least according to Adams), and it never saw the light of day. Luckily for Adams' fans, that wasn't the end of the road. As with many of Adams unreleased records, the tracks magically found their way to the internet, and were rapidly consumed.

Destroyer is largely Heartbreaker's twin. The production methods are similar, Adams' demeanor is almost identical, and many of the musical choices are in parallel. Many of the tracks feature simple arrangements with one or two guitars, and vocals are often Adams double tracking harmonies, but at times include Rawlings or Welch. What's more, Adams' songwriting, which became decidedly more sunny on Gold, is still in something of a romantic tragedy: self deprecating and lamenting love lost. Also, similar to Heartbreaker, Destroyer contains a single electrified track: Adams taking a stab at Welch's "Revelator". That being said, there are differences between the two: Destroyer brings in instrumentation not present on Heartbreaker: xylophones, bass, and piano are all far more prevalent in the record's mix.

However, production and instrumentation aside, the true winning mark of Destroyer is the songwriting. It's Adams at his very best: poppy, miserable, melodic, and dark. "Rainy Days" is a pop masterpiece resting on a bed of dischord and chaos. "Hey There Mrs. Lovely" manages to sadly lament a lover, while maintaining beautifully sweet harmonies through and through. Meanwhile, the sardonic "Born Yesterday" manages a wry stab at untruth with the lyric "Make me a list of all the things I don't want to know, to keep me safe.". In short, it is the Adams that we all love best: a clever, broken hearted, witty, miserable, musical genius.

The irony is that the love of Destroyer is not limited to fans: Adams himself has recently begun rerecording and rewriting the songs in an effort to get them out there. But the fact of the matter is that his new recordings simply don't do them justice. His new production methods and band lineup miss the simplicity that Rawlings, Welch, and Johns lent to the material. What's more, there's something to be said against messing with a record that's already this beautiful. Put differently: don't. We'll certainly buy a copy whenever it finally gets released, but until then we have this to say: Ryan, why not record another?

Given that folks posting unreleased Adams material have run into some significant legal trouble, we can't post mp3s. That being said, don't let us stop you from snagging a copy of your own. xoxo.


Anonymous said...

I love Destroyer, but HB is really overrated in my opinion. I will always believe that LIH and Cold Roses are his masterpieces. But of course you could put 20 RA fans in a room and after they finished being happy to find each other, and then squabbling, there would be 20 different opinions.