Ryan Adams-Heartbreaker Record Label- Bloodshot Records
Release Date- September 5th, 2000
Are you happy? Like, really, really happy? Like, so happy you’re sick of it? Then the perfect solution would be to sit in a dark room with Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker playing in the background. Never before has an album been so aptly named, as every single second of this album is designed to bring Ryan’s pain to the listener, and it works wonders. Why would you want to feel like this? Why would you want music to make you feel terrible? Because music so rarely makes a listener feel ANYTHING these days that when a record like this comes along, I think everyone should experience it. The amazing thing is, Adams manages to illicit this kind of reaction without particularly compelling lyrics. At heart, He’s just another lovelorn guy who doesn’t understand women. But somewhere between his delivery and acoustic guitar, the words put on so much more weight.
The album opens simply enough with “To Be Young (Is to be sad, is to be high),” what sounds like an upbeat country song becomes something far more somber when you realize Ryan Adam’s “good times” were when he was either Sad or High. The record will never be that light-hearted again. From there we launch into “My Winding Wheel,” “Amy” and “My Sweet Carolina,” the three songs I feel to be the soul of the record. All three of these songs slow in tempo and feature only an acoustic guitar (With some drums on “Carolina”), allowing Ryan’s voice to take center stage. With the slow tunes and heartbreaking croon, Ryan could be singing about banging his cousin and it would still pack the emotional punch of The Green Mile and Up’s Love Child.
From there we go to “Bartering Lines,” a song whose pounding bass drum combined with Ryan’s southern twang evokes a very Johnny Cash esque vibe. “Come Pick Me Up” offers a very different dynamic than the songs preceding it and thus gives Heartbreaker a second wind. When you think you have his game figured out, Ryan decides to throw in perhaps the saddest instrument in the history of music: The Harmonica. The song also offers a great example of Adam’s simple yet relatable lyrics “Come Pick Me Up/ Take Me Out/ Fuck Me Up/ Steal My Records/ Behind my Back/ With A Smile on Your Face/ And Then Do it Again. On paper, these could easily be written by any lonely pop-punk singer. But from the mouth of Ryan Adams, a broken heart is like a brand new concept. When it comes down to it, Ryan Adams knows how to make the listener feel his pain.
The next few tracks feed off the momentum of “ Come Pick Me Up,” returning to the acoustics of the previous tracks, with some additional musical tricks thrown in. The exception to this is “Shakedown on 9th Street,” the low point of the album featuring an electric guitar and an erratic Adams. The song ruins the flow that has been working so nicely since “My Winding Wheel.” The album closes with “Sweet Lil Gal (23rd-1st)” A Piano number that represents everything the album is about, simple instrumentation that allows Ryan’s voice to be exposed and naked. You would think rhyming “shirt” with “hurt” in this exposed state would be an embarrassment for any vocalist. But somehow, the atmosphere of the song allows us to forgive this trespass.
This is a recurring theme with Heartbreaker. I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite albums of all time, in fact it’s damn hard to rank it. I could complain about the average lyrics, the lack of any clear climax on the album, or a couple filler tracks. But somehow, when you consider the emotional pull of the album, these flaws seem far less important. I bought this album during one of the happiest times of my life, the pain it brings me isn’t because of my own nostalgic memories, its Ryan Adams hurt that he so effortlessly transposes to me.
I can’t pick any individual tracks that make me feel the way I do. Another rarity infused in Heartbreaker is its ability to work as an album, not a collection of songs. I can’t pick out the exact moment where you start to feel the weight, because really the whole album is that moment. I’m terrible at analyzing things critically; I wrote this review to share the experience of Heartbreaker. You will not regret giving it a shot, there is pleasure in this pain.
Pretty good review of one of my favorite albums. In my time of need is probably my favorite song off of this. I didn't really enjoy this album on first listen but boy does this grow on you fast and when your a little bit down this album is perfect.