30.) Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker (2000)
I find Ryan Adams is at his best when he's being romantic. I don't mean romantic in the "boy meets girl, boy woos girl" way either. In fact I mean the complete opposite. I mean romantic in terms of absolute misery. In fact one could say Ryan Adams romanticizes the unromantic. There isn't an artist who has made sadness sexier than Ryan Adams and this, his greatest skill, is all over Heartbreaker.
Heartbreaker establishes it's tone very early on, right after the crackerjack opener "To Be Young" in fact. This is going to be a sad record. A record about heartbreak (natch) but also homesickness and that great mid life crisis sticking point - general malaise. It's all very juvenile in some ways and if you weren't that age when it was released, you may find it all a bit gross. But I was and I still can't help but get choked up when I hear "Amy", "Oh My Sweet Carolina" and of course, Adams' greatest moment, "Come Pick Me Up."
The subject matter is rote and passe, but the lyrics aren't. Adams has a way with words and his voice is what really makes the whole thing feel transcendent. It cracks and it's lived in and in those vulnerable moments can be so beautiful. "My Winding Wheel" still breaks my heart everytime I hear it ("Cause I feel just like a map/without a single place to go of interest") and it's general message of "go ahead, find someone better than me, see if I care" just goes to prove that there is very little difference between being 25 and being 15. Ryan Adams knows this better than anybody and with Heartbreaker he made a record full of nostalgia even if you had never heard it before.
Another favorite moment of mine comes in "Oh My Sweet Carolina", a song about Adams missing his southern home of Kentucy while he's living in New York. I've lived in New York my whole life, so I shouldn't get it but when he says "Now up here in the city/It feels like thing's are closing in/the sunset's just my lightbulb burning out" I do. That's his genius. He makes you relate. It's a beautiful moment. And a fucking amazing line.
I love, love, love this record. Still. I can listen to it and it immediately puts me back in my teeny tiny apartment on 63rd street (which had no natural light and therefore led to that "lightbulb" line having so much meaning for me) where I wore Heartbreaker out and would listen to "Come Pick Me Up" on a loop. No matter what becomes of Ryan Adams, and we all know he's become a punchline-in my opinion an undeserved one - he can always hang his hat on having written that song. I still get goose bumps when I hear that opening harmonica bit. "Come Pick Me Up" is proof positive that every man should have his broken like that at least once. If you never feel that pain, that song won't work the way it should. And that's Ryan Adams. Making pain sexy.
Posted by Pat Driscoll