What to do with an artist as prolific as Ryan Adams? As much time as he spends in high-profile relationships (Winona Ryder, Beth Orton, Leona Naess), hanging with music celebs (Elton John, Adam Duritz, Alanis Morisette), and teetering on the brink of fame himself (seemingly omnipresent on TV from playing “Saturday Night Live” to singing with Toots Hibbert on MTV to hawking Gap jeans with Willie Nelson), the guy is still pumping out songs 24/7. But it’s difficult to put a new release on the market every time Adams’ creative juices overflow, which is often.
That’s why, instead of the five albums’ worth of demos he purportedly recorded over a ten-month span in the last year, we have this single-disc collection selected from that stack of tracks. (A box set containing all the material had been discussed, and might still surface down the line.)
Demolition shows Adams working in a wide variety of settings — from stark acoustic-guitar-and-voice numbers such as “She Wants To Play Hearts” to the polished country and country rock of “Hallelujah” to the purposefully sloppy “Starting To Hurt”. The result is perhaps too diffuse and rough-edged to be considered his best work, but it probably is a better overall representation of his wandering muse than either of his previous solo outings or his earlier work with Whiskeytown.
Saying there’s lots of heartbreak on a Ryan Adams album is like saying there’s lots of oxygen in the atmosphere. Sadness and beautiful loserdom are simply the air that he breathes. Those inclined to follow the soap opera that is Adams’ private life will find plenty of fodder in songs such as the bright, engaging “Nuclear” and the smoldering “Desire”, which chart the beginnings of new relationships. The hangdog “Cry On Demand” and desperate “Dear Chicago”, meanwhile, follow to them to their natural denouement and beyond. Along the way are startling self-realizations, as on the latter tune, where Adams sings, “I think the thing you said is true, I’m gonna die alone and sad.” But he can dish it out as much as he can take it; on “Hallelujah”, he callously declaims, “I’ve used you like I used ‘em all”, and crows, “Hallelujah, you’re gone.”
Musically, the harder Adams rocks, the less convincing he is. “Gimme A Sign”, for example, comes off like a Replacements retread, and doesn’t carry the emotional weight of some of the slower, more thoughtful numbers. “Tomorrow”, written with the late Carrie Hamilton, is particularly poignant, with Gillian Welch doubling Adams’ plaintive lament in the chorus. The closing “Jesus (Don’t Touch My Baby)” mourns over an atmospheric soundscape of synths, guitars and a drum machine. It’s one of the least-finished-sounding tracks on the album, but it’s the most affecting.