Orphans, Bastards and Timewasters

Getting to the heart of Ryan Adams' prolificacy

Music Features Ryan Adams
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The Assignment: Ryan Adams put out (at the time of writing) 11 albums on his website, accessible (at the time of writing). You’ll note they were all recorded under aliases - DJ Reggie, the Shit, and WereWolph. Hoboy, here we go. The task ahead of me? Simple. Answer the natural questions: (a) WTF? (b) are they any good? (c) in the infinite cycle of decay and rebirth that governs the natural order of things can one person structure their actions in such a way as to achieve extraordinary transcendence through the sheer casting off of the implicit logic of cause and effect so as to realize through randomness the intelligent designs inherent in the eventuality of serendipitous spontaneity? (d) no, seriously, WTF?

Hypotheses:

1. Ryan Adams has got our number. I’ve always suspected that Andy Warhol spent hours filming himself SLEEPING because in some smart-but-antisocial corner of his clever mind he was utterly glowing in an orgy of cynical schadenfreude over the notion that people would buy his shtick so deeply that they’d watch it, fawn over it, spend a thousand cocktail-party hours gibbering about how existentially meaningful it was, and he could sit back and smirk beneath his platinum mop knowing that he had pulled the string and watched the clueless self-appointed experts prove their essential gullibility. Adams has got to know very well that the rap on him is that he can’t edit, won’t edit, and most of all, needs an editor, and so, naturally, the contrarian imp that he is, he churns out ten albums worth of musical diarrhea in one sitting to set our tongues wagging. The fact that you’re reading this is proof that he won.

2. A simple mix of hyperactivity and in-studio boredom coupled with the fact that Ryan Adams, refreshingly enough, isn’t so precious about the process of songwriting that he feels any shame in sharing outtakes-of-outtakes-of-sketches with his shrinking-but-sometimes-slobbering public (see #1 above).

3. So tortured by the pressures exerted upon him by those who expected his early precociousness to flower into breathtaking, deeply culturally significant, legendary talent, Adams continues the task of frightened Westerbergesque self-sabotage by repeatedly becoming the punchline ad absurdam of his own inside jokes and ironic pose-coppings.

4. A mix of insomnia, clearly way too much caffeine and too-cheap studio time, coupled with a lack of self-consciousness because, after all, he’s giving the stuff away for free.

5. Ryan is actually legitimately nuts, artistically lost and rather than stuffing his ten-part Chinese Democracy somewhere in the floorboards, he’s decided to just release it all while he makes tea for his sock puppets.

6. It’s actually fun to let off steam, and why not with music?

The verdict (content and order on the site keeps changing, so at the time of writing, this is the lineup):

Album 1: DJ Reggie. 4:20/20. 1.5 Stars.
The funny thing about this one is that, intentionally or not, DJ Reggie manages to knock Beck down half a peg by showing just how easily Mr. Hansen’s traditional m.o. can lead to silly results - falsetto refrains, guero mumbles, video game bleep samples and haphazard phrases quickly descending into ugly self-parody. The disturbing thing, though, about this one is that the lyrics to tracks like “When I Was Drugs, Inc.” and “Emotional Abuse” seem not just earnest but confessional, awkward glimpses of true emotional torment casually delivered in the midst of a crass musical belch. Less troubled, “Autumn In New York” seems like a fun first twenty minutes back from tour, though, and is endearing in its clumsy buoyancy.

Album 2: DJ Reggie. Hip-Hop Breaker. 2 stars.
Conclusive proof that Ryan is the new Dylan - if Dylan rapped (now) I think it would sound something like this. “Teen Wolf” actually has a hook, though. Like the pun on Heartbreaker. Actually it’s easy to like the synth work on “Don’t Look Down” and the organ work on “Matlock Rock,” too. Oh, and Adams spoils the big psychoanalysis exercise by making a point in not one but two songs of saying that he’s just doing this for fun (or does he protest too much?). No fun - let the pundits do their punditing, sir; it’s our birthright.

Album 3: DJ Reggie. A Reginald Gangster. 0.5 stars.
Mostly unlistenable, particularly after two other full “Reggie” platters. “Rascalflattz” is kind of fun, but otherwise, to paraphrase Morrissey, “that joke isn’t funny anymore.”

Just a quick interjection - at one point last week there was, I think, a different album on here, which, actually, had some truly good songs (with a lot of Grateful Deadisms) including a legitimate Adams tune called something like “Celebrities Hurt.” I suppose in an effort to remove all legitimate songs from this mish-mash (perhaps at Lost Highway’s imploring), it’s gone. A shame, really.

Album 4: The Shit. This Is Shit. 2 stars.
Reminiscent of The Finger, his earlier palate-cleansing scratch project with Jesse Malin, Adam’s slapdash hardcore punk way outclasses his slapdash hip-hop. That’s not to say the title isn’t dead-on in a basic sense, but if it weren’t for his regrettable singing you’d think you were listening to low-quality bootlegs of the Dead Milkmen (performing in a tin can). So the guitars are there, at least. Still, one can’t help but think back to “Faithless Street,” though, where a post-Patty Duke Syndrome Adams admitted “so I started this damn country band, because punk rock was too hard to sing.”

Album 5: DJ Reggie. Holla Dayz Inn. 2 stars.
Sigh. More of the same DJ Reggie half-jokes, though “Egyptiana Christamica” is somewhat catchy and “Doctor Robot” has some interesting techno squiggles. Plus the three-genre squiggle of “Blanky Night Time Friend” is one of the more amusing tracks in this whole collection. One is still under no illusions that Adams could actually make a legitimate hip-hop album, but his production skills are reasonable, even in the service of utterly boring goofs.

Album 6: The Shit…Hits the Fans. 1.75 stars
The Replacements bootleg of the same name (featuring drunken ‘Mats mangling various covers) is more satisfying cultural jetsam, but Adams is clearly comfortable in the punk idiom and there’s something about the inane circular logic of “Stop committing suicide, you know it only makes you die,” that actually fits within the main of the punk tradition. Some of the backside of this one shifts back into electro-silliness, but there’s an entertaining cameo by someone one can only presume is Parker Posey on “Punk as Fuck” (behind as I may be on Ryan’s celebrity girlfriend shuffle). Anyway, not as strong overall as This Is Shit, but it’s all relative.

Album 7: The Shit. Hillbilly Joel. 2.5 stars.
This could almost be a Gourds album with Adams' talent for country guitars, his southern twang and his sense of irony. Of course, he takes the joke a bit far, ending every song with rooster crows and reeling out one track after another on a common theme. See if you can guess it - songs here include “I Drink Too Much,” “Drinking Hard,” “I Pass Out In AA- Fuck,” “Drunk as a Pile of Fuck,” Drunk as Hell Again,” and “Drunk and In Jail for Arson.” Hiccup.

Album 8: The Shit. General Ulysses S. Grant Hospital. 0.5 stars
A slapdash hodge-podge in a hodge-podge of slapdashes, the tedium that sets in after eight of these things doesn’t merit extended description. So I won’t.

Album 9: The Shit. Christmas Apocalpyse: Part 2. 1 star.
One of the interesting things about these albums is that Adams has certain strands that persist throughout- space travel, Egyptology, a cop named David Livingston, and in this case, Christmas. About as scrambled a Christmas album as you can imagine, but with certain semi-bright spots - the most clever being “Rudolph the Reznor Reindeer.”

Album 10: The Shit. Slef Portrait. 1 star.
Mostly indecipherable, largely forgettable. Take you slef more seriously, boyo.

Album 11: WereWolph. Feel the Laser. 2 stars.
Adams’ death metal incarnation, sorta. The hard rock song “Mega Wizards” is one of the only true songs in the entire collection and could actually make it onto a Witch album if the vocals were slightly more menacing. The zombie anthem “Dead People Unite and Take Over” features a cheeky vocal that would be stupid but for the fact that it sounds so much like Cronos or other more serious metallists that the spoof connects. “Chuck Norris” starts off funny and then gets gross, while the cover of Shania Twains’ “Still the One” doesn’t quite live up to its promise, but mangles nonetheless.

In conclusion, while on some level I can’t help but feel a bit ashamed that I went to the very real trouble of listening to eleven of these things, much less writing about them, but the complete absence of care on Adams’ part is a double-edged sword. On one hand, there’s merit in being able to deliver (and take) a joke, but eleven albums' worth of really bad jokes (even though most are short) seems like totally pointless overkill no matter how you slice it. Admittedly, no one has to listen, but it will certainly be hard trusting the outtakes of this particular boy who cried WereWolph going forward. Then again, if you have a bored and possibly drunk afternoon some weekend and want to psychoanalyze the inscrutable Ryan Adams at his most puerile, there’s a trove here, equal parts goof and guano.