Heartbreaker


Band: Ryan Adams
Album: Heartbreaker
Best song: “Come Pick Me Up” is a great song. “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” is a nice little song. “Winding Wheel” is gorgeous.
Worst song: It’s all pretty good.

As mentioned many times before, I am not a fan of twang. While I enjoy my fair share of No Depression stuff, I was raised on classic rock (specifically, the Beatles), so I don’t migrate to it immediately.

Indeed, when I’d heard about the record in college, I was not too into the idea of it. I wasn’t a Whiskeytown fan, but the other DJs at our station — KCOU may be a college station, but it was one of the first stations to embrace Uncle Tupelo, so this type of music has always been in KCOU’s DNA — fell in absolute love with the record. At the same time, a close friend of mine decided she was totally into the album.

Anyway.

Heartbreaker is Adams’ first solo record and it’s the best thing he’s ever recorded. Outside of a few songs (“To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” being the operative one), it’s a mostly slower-tempo record full of scarred love songs. “Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains)” is sparse and pretty, with a minimalist arrangement. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” features a lovely Emmylou Harris vocal. “My Winding Wheel,” like the best love metaphors, was supposedly inspired by a breakup.

It’s a lovestruck record, one forged in Adams’ home of North Carolina. Like his beloved south, Adams is slow, classic and deliberate. He doesn’t swirl strings around like Wilco or try to go back to a place that never existed. Indeed, he simply writes some pretty fucking sad songs.

Adams has a strong voice and an equally strong band. He rocks out(“To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)”), he tries to be Dylan (“Why Do They Leave?”) and he strips it all away to don his Neil Young hat (“To Be The One”). It’s a striking dance between influences and it makes for a great record.

And then, there’s “Come Pick Me Up.”

Recently named as the 285th best song of the decade (for whatever that’s worth) by Pitchfork, the song is a soft-tempo dirge with an undeniable hook. I’ve been thinking recently that all great songs have one or two simple arrangement things. It’s the simple revolving keyboard on “Tin Cans and Twine.” It’s the bells of Jens Lekman’s “Postcard to Nina.”

“Come Pick Me Up” has a simple banjo line that boxes in the chorus. It gives the song character, but backs up Adams’ tortured vocal and an easy drum line. It then works with the harmonica driving the post chorus flood. Working a Pixies dynamic, the banjo goes silent for the verse, only to pick up again when the chorus arrives.

And that’s all leaving out the exquisitely simply lyric.

Adams begins the song asking questions about the keepsakes we’ve all put in a box in a cabinet, only to pull out a week later with tears in your eyes. Adams encapsulates it well, singing of a “favorite sweater/with an old lover letter.”

Or the pleading questions of “Do you wish I was there? /Do you wish it was me?” Or the notion that a walk downtown is one that would remind the girl of him. Sarcasm drips and he finally asks her to sleep in his bed in the bridge, singing “I wish I could,” reminding the listener of the recent breakup and the sleepless night.

The chorus’ hook is undeniable to a rock snob, as Adams recounts the High Fidelity idea of a breakup:

Come pick me up.
Take me out.
Fuck me up.
Steal my records.
Screw all my friends.
They’re all full of shit.
With a smile on your face.
And then do it again.
I wish you would.

Desperate and gorgeous, it’s not complicated. Like the rest of the record, it’s raw and emotional, but beautiful.

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