Artist: Ryan Adams
Reason Featured: #26 on The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll for 1999, #45 Album for NME’s Top Fifty Albums of 2000
My Favorite Songs: To Be Young (Is To Be Sad Is To Be High), Come Pick Me Up
Their Grades: Rolling Stone (3/5), NME (8/10), Pitchfork (9.0/10), Robert Christgau ()
My Grade: 75%
I’ve never really had a beef with Ryan Adams beyond thinking he’s overrated. Other people seem to have more decisive opinions. Some think he’s one of our greatest songwriters while others can’t get past how much an asshole he is in interviews. I remember listening to Gold years ago after seeing one rave review after another and just wishing I was listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot instead. When it comes to Heartbreaker, the same desire to switch over to Jeff Tweedy surfaced.
After the opening, unnecessary argument about Morrissey, I was happy to hear a song as catchy as “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad Is To Be High).” The only other song of his which I took to as fast was “Let It Ride” so I was hoping for some more of the same as the record progressed. But the ramshackle bounce of the second track gives way to one song after another of acoustic tearjerkers. Plenty of my favorite songs fall into that category but it’s far easier to digress into cliche when you take the way paved by Bob Dylan on Blood on the Tracks. Adams’ attempts at originality come through too bland and offhand.
If I saw a local singer-songwriter performing Heartbreaker tracks at a local coffee shop, I’d likely be impressed. But that’s just the thing. These songs are impressive if they’re performed by “some guy” but not by someone who fronted a prominent band like Whiskeytown. The fact NME ranked this a better album of the year and, thus, as a better album about heartbreak than 69 Love Songs just seems a little off to me. Robert Christgau’s assessment is the best. This is a record with one really good cut and a bunch of other songs which could’ve been cut without much complaint.