According to Ryan Adams' semi-coherent Web posts during the making of what was supposed to be his third studio album, his label balked as his new songs, telling him they were "too alternative rock," "incredibly depressing" and "not your best stuff." And they were right . . . except about that last part. Love Is Hell — delayed and then broken up into dual EPs — is an exquisite portrait of the artist as a tired young man: tired of love, tired of fame and, most of all, tired of lonely nights spent in the Chelsea Hotel, where this fifteen-song New York City serenade plays out. With Adams trading in his raspy vocals and honky-tonk instrumentation for lofty croons over violins, cellos and piano, Love Is Hell aims for Nick Drake, Morrissey, and more recent Britpop luminaries (see the "Wonderwall" cover), and — like most everything he does these days — is sure to piss off the alt-country faithful. The results are painful, yet exhilarating: "English Girls Approximately" is a bittersweet account of love lost (Adams' strong suit) featuring Brit bird Marianne Faithfull; the title track is a fleeting guitar-driven blast of drunken bliss, and "Hotel Chelsea Nights" evolves from maudlin torch song to sing-along spiritual. The song's coda, "Strung out like some Christmas lights/Out there in the Chelsea nights," captures Adams as an artist alone . . . and shining brightly.
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