Ryan Adams writes songs and makes records like there’s no tomorrow. Gold is just one of three albums the North Carolina-born former leader of Whiskeytown has completed in the past year. There’s an LP’s worth of Gold outtakes too, ten songs he pulled to get the album down to seventy minutes and a single CD.
Gold, Adams’ major-label solo debut, is still a little too long. It’s not until “Somehow, Someday,” a third of the way in, that Adams catches up to his reputation as country noir’s hurt king. With the barest narrative and a silver drizzle of guitars, Adams spills apologies and belated promises (“There ain’t no way I’ll ever stop from lovin’ you now”) with the concentrated immediacy of a guy singing to the door that just slammed in his face.
Adams’ taste for haste can make you wince. The gentle distress of “Wild Flowers” is nearly undone by mashed metaphors (“windless breezes,” “sleepless circus promenade”). But Adams’ emotional directness and pathological fear of polish — imagine Morrissey and Keith Richards as the Glimmer Twins — give Gold‘s best moments the pow of late-breaking news: the twist of bitchy lyric vengeance in the haiku-Crazy Horse stomp “Enemy Fire,” the obsessive need that cracks through his voice in the sweet floater “When the Stars Go Blue.” Adams writes about the mess of love in shreds of detail: hints of comings and goings, references to clothes and addresses. He can be frustratingly inconclusive about who’s doing what to whom. But Adams writes and rocks with a simple, effective magnetism. At nearly ten minutes, “Nobody Girl” is a mere slip of an idea that never dries up. The chorus is brief, harsh and addictive; the guitars roll on with slow, deliberate force. Adams didn’t need to make the song that long; it’s great to have this much of it.
Gold lacks the concise ache of Adams’ indie solo prize from last year, Heartbreaker, but it is stronger on naked truth. In “Harder Now That It’s Over,” a messy tale of jealousy, gunplay and handcuffs co-written with Chris Stills, Adams sings with the straight, clear sorrow of a fool who beat doing hard time but sentenced himself to life alone. “I’m less than nothing now/I’m the one between the bars,” he admits over whispered accordion and a slender stream of steel-guitar tears — an age-old story told be a young singer-songwriter wise enough to let his heart speak for itself.