Like the proverbial bus, you wait ages for a Ryan Adams album and then three come along at once. Just one month after the double whammy of Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell Pt 1, along comes the second part of the latter album.
Love Is Hell Pt 2 is the concluding instalment of the sessions that were originally rejected by Adams’ record company as being not commercially viable. Pt 1 was a bleak collection, with the spectres of death, lost love and loneliness haunting the songs. Things don’t get any brighter in Pt 2, but the good news is that the music here is just as compelling.
Opening track Blue Manhattan continues to demonstrate Adams’ way with an evocative lyric (“The snow’s comin’ down on the cars in midtown”) and even nods musically towards George Gershwin. Somewhere in a parallel universe this is Christmas number one every year. Lyrically, Please Do Not Let Me Go appears to be more defiant (“I’m all alone now, I can do as I please”) but the air of melancholic regret indicates that it’s all just an act.
Possibly the standout track though is English Girls Approximately, which can only be an ill-disguised lovelorn ode to Beth Orton (“She’s a Norfolk waterfall, little daybreaker… Come on Elizabeth, come on Bethany”). Adams weaves a mournful, yet still uplifting, Bob Dylan-esque melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on Blood On The Tracks – and even ropes in ’60s icon Marianne Faithfull for backing vocals.
In fact the only wrong notes are struck by the two bonus tracks on this UK release. F**k The Universe and Twice As Bad As Love are both good songs but would probably sound more at home on the Rock N Roll album. The former is a squalling slab of self-loathing which ends with Adams screaming, “I’m a faker, money maker!” It doesn’t quite fit with the air of wistful regret prevalent on so many of the other tracks, and the sprawling epic of Hotel Chelsea Nights would have made a better album closer (think Van Morrison covering Prince‘s Purple Rain).
It’s unclear quite why this has been split into two releases (the Kill Bill of the music world perhaps?), as with some judicious editing Love Is Hell could easily fit on one album. Yet such quibbles are minor when confronted with the sheer quality of the songwriting here.
It beggars belief why the record company opted to make the relatively lightweight Rock N Roll the “official” release rather than this collection. While never quite reaching the majestically tear-jerking heights of his Heartbreaker debut, these songs confirm Adams as one of the best songwriters around right now. Whether he’d want to go through the lows that produced them is another matter.