Author – BD Joyce
- Artist: Ryan Adams
- Album: Gold
- Year of Release: 2001
- Country: USA
- Label: Lost Highway
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: 088 170 256-2
Ryan Adams is a piece of shit. He may not yet have been convicted of any crime, but the litany of credible accusations of abusive and misogynistic behaviour are all too believable, given the power imbalance between rock star Adams, and the sometimes very young female fans and aspiring musicians that he sadly took advantage of. It is inexcusable, and unforgiveable that Adams was able to get away with such predatory behaviour for so many years, and one can only hope that his numerous victims take some comfort in the fact that he has now been exposed, and are able to overcome the trauma that they have suffered at his hands.
Gold is mostly an absolutely wonderful album. Strangely, a small number of tedious songs are grouped together in the middle of the album, which almost dupes the listener into believing that the rich promise of the magnificent three tracks that open the record will not be realised, before a superb run closes the album, almost duping the listener into believing that Gold is even better than it is. The truth is not quite somewhere in the middle though – on balance, the quality of the best songs render that of the not so good unimportant.
Opening with probably the most widely known song from the album, minor hit ‘New York, New York’, Gold makes an immediate impression, pairing the louche, classic rock, Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones swagger of the two-chord guitar work with Adams’ fragile but melodious voice working through breezily infectious and unforgettable verse and chorus melodies. The Big Apple is hardly a new topic for songwriters, but Adams ode to the city, acknowledging the thrills and flaws that together make it such an exciting destination, ensures that it feels fresh again. Like much of the material on Gold, ‘New York, New York’ is deceptively complex musically, with the layers of Hammond organ and strummed acoustics subtly creating a warm, full sound, and the overall impression is quite simply joyous. The upbeat country-rock of ‘Firecracker’, this time bolstered by some great harmonica playing and a more yearning timbre from Adams’ versatile voice, continue a rich vein of songwriting excellence, which continues with the more muted, but undeniably pretty, ‘Answering Bell’ calling to mind Neil Young at his 70s best, utilising pedal steel tremendously to create a blissful, late night feel.
It’s at this point that Gold bafflingly takes a turn into six straight songs that suck all of the energy out of what to this point feels like a classic in waiting. This section of the album is generally downbeat, and although Adams is presumably aiming for atmospheric, the songs merge into a turgid and staid mush of MOR balladry. On these tracks, Adams tremulous voice becomes a weakness – he lacks the soul and character to hold the listener’s attention when supported by the sparse surroundings of the likes of ‘Somehow, Someday’, or ‘Nobody Girl’. Things reach their nadir on ‘SYLVIA PLATH’, which is lyrically extremely uncomfortable, even before one takes into account Adams’ behaviour towards women. “I wish I had a Sylvia Plath” is an unsettling sentiment, and it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Adams is delighting in the fantasy of indulging in a tumultuous affair with a tortured and doomed individual, who suffered greatly during her tragic life.
Thankfully, ‘Enemy Fire’, co-written with the outstanding country singer Gillian Welch both redresses the balance somewhat, and also signals the start of an unbroken run of seven superb songs to close out the album. Of the numerous highlights that adorn a magical feat of songwriting, the sumptuous lullaby of ‘Wild Flowers’ and wistfully beautiful piano chords of ‘Harder Now That It’s Over’ shine brightest, although the understated Motown horns and gospel harmonies of ‘Touch, Feel & Lose’ brings both strong competition and a welcome variety to what is sometimes a somewhat one-paced set of compositions.
As the elegiac, jazzy closer ‘Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd’ fades out, like the end of a Broadway musical, the listener can easily forgive the transgressions of the tiresome mid-section of Gold. At its best, this is an achingly gorgeous country-rock album, that bears comparison with some of the great singer-songwriters – Adams is capable of creating beguiling music that Neil Young or Gram Parsons would be pleased to call their own. There’s no avoiding the inconsistency of the album taken as a whole though, and there remains an underlying suspicion that Adams is still searching for his true voice, and is perhaps sometimes guilty instead of imitating, rather than assimilating the greats that he so clearly admires. Gold is not quite as precious as the metal it is named after, and if the middle section that lets it down so badly were excised, and the two remaining halves stapled back together like a cut-and-shut hatchback, it could be so much better than the overlong test of willpower that it occasionally turns into It is still though, mostly wonderful, the flawed but brilliant creation of a flawed, but not brilliant, person.