Adams Takes On 'Rock,' 'Love'

In the three years since Ryan Adams left his acclaimed alt-country band, Whiskeytown, fans and critics alike have adored pretty much everything he has put out -- no matter how far it found him strayin

In the three years since Ryan Adams left his acclaimed alt-country band, Whiskeytown, fans and critics alike have adored pretty much everything he has put out -- no matter how far it found him straying from his roots.

That said, and considering that Adams is signed to a label that fancies itself as artist-friendly, it was a surprise to learn that Lost Highway last year rejected what was supposed to be his third solo album, "Love Is Hell," which he calls "the work of my life."

While the move initially infuriated Adams, oddly enough it has worked out beautifully in the end for both the famously prolific singer and his fans. Through an odd twist of fate, the rejection of "Love Is Hell" has led to the release of three new Adams titles within a six-week span.

"Rock N Roll," Adams' fourth solo set overall, was issued Nov. 4, the same day as the first of two "Love Is Hell" EPs; the second arrived Dec. 9. Both EPs are uncommonly long -- the first stretches to eight tracks. It's quite a turnaround from roughly one year ago, when the rejection sparked a period during which Adams cut all ties to the label for months and even resumed recording on his own credit card.

He says the original version of "Love Is Hell" -- the EPs feature newer songs and are not simply the album cut in halves -- probably recalled artists that Lost Highway wasn't used to him referencing -- Leonard Cohen, the Velvet Underground, the Smiths and Nick Drake.

The album was written at a time when Adams was feeling burnt out from a lengthy tour and "going through a lot of personal things, a lot of heaviness." When pressed for details, he says, "All you have to do is listen to the album and all the answers are there."

Featuring what even he calls "really f*cked-up lyrics," "Love Is Hell," he says, "has the potential to be a doomy record that can befriend people who are in a doomy place. And that wasn't a career move that my label felt like I needed to make at that time."

Label chief Luke Lewis says he and others at Lost Highway simply felt that Adams could -- and needed to -- do better, considering that "Love Is Hell" was to be the follow-up to his celebrated 2001 disc, "Gold." His biggest seller to date, "Gold" has sold 308,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"In his career, we all believe that this record is essential in terms of showing growth and beating anything he had done before," Lewis says. "Everybody -- particularly the press -- has set him up as a darling, and if he disappointed anybody, they would crush him. He needed to be challenged, and he would probably hate me saying that."

Adams, 29, eventually gave Lost Highway "Rock N Roll" -- the most straightforward, ballad-lite album he has cut to date -- under the agreement that the label would find a way to issue "Love Is Hell."

Lewis says he initially considered issuing a four- or five-disc collection of the many recording sessions that Adams has done during the past few years. Feeling as though that would be a bit presumptuous for such a young artist, the label and Adams decided on the EPs. Eventually, both discs will be joined together in a vinyl release.

Including guest turns by Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and ex-Hole/Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, "Rock N Roll" is certainly more accessible and immediate, but not necessarily better than "Love Is Hell, Pt. 1," which features denser songs that could prove more timeless.

Explaining the genesis of the former, he says, "I had just done 'Love Is Hell,' which is an unrock record, a completely atmospheric, spiritual, sad, freaky record, and I'm always on about doing something I wasn't doing before, because I do a lot different types of stuff, obviously. So this was just the thing I needed to do, because I hadn't done it yet. It was a fun thing to do, the obvious thing to do."

Fueled by lead single "So Alive," "Rock N Roll" debuted on The Billboard 200 at No. 33, while "Love Is Hell, Pt. 1" entered the chart at No. 78 and "Pt. 2" at No. 171." In addition to these three new releases, Lost Highway is issued European singles featuring different sleeve covers and different bonus cuts for the same song.

What's more, Adams says he has at least 30 more songs on top of that. He also hopes to begin streaming even newer songs on his Web site almost immediately after they're written.

Those longing for more of the soul-spilling balladry found on his solo debut, 2000's "Heartbreaker," will have to wait a little while longer, he says. But Lewis has pledged to issue as much of the insanely productive singer's material as possible, and that's proving to be a daunting task.

"Because he talks so much about being in the studio in the press, and a lot of people know we have things in the can," Lewis says, "he feels compelled, like, 'Hey, nobody believes me, people don't really believe that I've got all these songs in the can. Yes, I do. We need to put them out.' No, you don't. How do you put out 70 songs?"

Excerpted from the Nov. 29, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

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