Death In Vegas
[The Mail On Sunday, 2002]
TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING
DANCING DOWN THE STONY ROAD
DEATH IN VEGAS
THE NOVEL thing about Ryan Adams is not that he does anything novel. Adams is enormously talented, but - unlike the young Bob Dylan, with whom he's often erroneously compared - he isn't a revolutionary. The novel thing about Ryan Adams is the number and the variety of un-novel things he does extremely well.
On the back of two exceptional solo albums, Heartbreaker and Gold, Adams has become the undisputed star of the alt.country movement. There are few aspects of that movement he doesn't touch on. He can do emphatic, tuneful, countrified rock with the best of them (that would be The Jayhawks), and is currently unsurpassed as a heart-on-sleeve balladeer. The rate and quality of his songwriting and recording mean that he produces more music than he knows what to do with, which is how Demolition has come about.
The title is a duff pun indicating a clutch of unadorned demos, selected from a year's worth of very different studio sessions. These range from the sparse, self-explanatory Suicide Handbook to neo-redneck garage backed by his touring band, nicknamed The Pinkhearts. You're entitled to wonder whether, at this stage of his career, such a release is an indicator of Adams' stature or of his conceit.
Well, there's enough fine stuff here to confirm that Adams has plenty to be conceited about. Of the dozen or so tracks, a third are excellent; the remainder aren't so much thrilling as merely accomplished. On records by other artists, they might stand out - but having set himself such high standards, Adams now has to be judged by them. His lesser cast-offs seem slight in proximity to the charming and immaculate Chin Up, Cheer Up, with the feel of Gram Parsons-era Byrds; the stark, affecting Dear Chicago; the bitter-sweet Hallelujah, straight from the 'No Depression' school which presaged the alt.country boom; the brash Replacements-style pop punk of Gimme A Sign. These songs by themselves justify the album's existence, and for those already smitten with Adams, will make it well worth owning.
John Squire was central to one of the best British rock bands of the last 15 years, The Stone Roses, and - a very crowded field, this - one of the worst, The Seahorses. I hoped his first solo album might land him back on the right side of this divide. I hoped wrong. Like Wile E Coyote, he has plunged straight down the middle of the chasm and disappeared with a distant thud in a puff of dust.
From the banal title to the unwarranted bombast of both music and lyrics, Time Changes Everything makes for a dreary and dispiriting listen. Squire is certainly no worse a singer than his former bandmate, Ian Brown; but as a guitarist and songwriter, the adventure and exuberance which so invigorated the first Roses album have evidently eluded him yet again. Time Changes Everything aspires to be soul-searching classic rock tinged with Americana. Hearing it directly after the Ryan Adams album only serves to emphasise how painfully short it falls of that ambition.
Until this week, I would have taken any inclination on my part to give Chris Rea a good review as a sign that I was overdue to be euthanized by drowning in a vat of lukewarm cocoa. I haven't changed, but Rea has. A near-fatal illness spurred him into forsaking his slippers and embracing the blues. Rea's music, once so evocative of traffic cones and Little Chefs, has returned to the traditional blues landscape: haunted crossroads, lonely backwoods and lowering skies. Dancing Down That Stony Road may not be quite the spectral howl from the darkness that Rea would wish. But it's a powerful and consistent two-CD set, more reminiscent of Ry Cooder than the original bluesmen who inspired it.
The third album from Death in Vegas, Scorpio Rising, features a series of guest vocalists and veers between electro and rock, brilliance and irritation. Elbow-in-the-ribs references to Satanism, sado-masochism and other such hobbies of the would-be shocking never take long to become wearisome. And it's infuriating that Gene Clark's flawless Sixties pop ornament, So You Say You lost Your Baby, should be unearthed only to be despatched by the ever-graceless Paul Weller with his customary nuanced delicacy of a breeze block falling upon a grape.
On the plus side, Liam Gallagher hasn't made a better recording than the title track in eight years. Hands Around My Throat is marvellously nasty, a taut length of dirty razor wire. The breathy mannerisms and self-conscious artiste-ry (as distinct from artistry) of ex-Mazzy Star singer Hope Sandoval gratifyingly fail to mar Help Yourself, which develops from Philip Glass pastiche to blockbuster psych-out. Scorpio Rising may be uneven, but the highs are electrifying.
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