Demolition

For some musicians, songwriting is like tooth extraction; for others, it's as easy as brushing twice a day. Like Prince and Stephin Merritt, rising alt-country star Ryan Adams is a compulsive songwriter. His third solo album, Demolition, collects demos he made in the last year between tour dates. Adams recorded five albums' worth of material in five separate sessions, two of them with his cow-punk pals the Pinkhearts; it was all rumored to be coming out as a box set. Mercifully, he trimmed it down to thirteen songs, unified by Adams' gift for melody, the theme of heartbreak and his adenoidal vocal resemblance to Paul Simon.

The ballads, many recorded with steel guitarist Bucky Baxter, are much better than the rockers; "Cry on Demand" is the best: four mournful minutes that shut down the world. Since "New York, New York" was the breakout hit on Gold, Adams follows it up here with the melancholy "Dear Chicago"; look forward to songs named after Los Angeles and Dallas on future records. "Starting to Hurt," on the other hand, is a bouncy slice of midtempo cheese that could easily be covered by his doppelganger Bryan Adams. The record closes with the exceptional "Jesus (Don't Touch My Baby)," which sets happy memories of California beaches to moody, atmospheric music, rendering them paranoid. Told to write a song about a silver lining, Adams will always find the cloud.

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