Ryan Adams has to decide whether he’s an emotional singer-songwriter or a pretty-boy rocker, because he can’t have it both ways. One minute he’s sitting head in hands, cigarette held loosely between his lips, doing his best to look depressed. And the next he’s playing “Move It On Over” in a Gap commercial. Such is the problem with Demolition, Adams’s third solo album: He tries to come off as both a pensive country singer and a hip young rock star. That’s not to suggest Demolition is a bad album – it’s excellent at times – it could just use some more focus.
Never lacking in ambition or ego, Adams originally planned Demolition as a monstrous 60-song box set, but fortunately for us he trimmed it to a lean 13 cuts. With songs ranging from the melancholy country of “Cry on Demand” to rowdy cowpunk numbers like “Gimme a Sign,” Demolition serves as another reminder that Adams is alt-country’s most prolific writer. And he’ll be damned if anyone ever forgets.
Ryan needs to realize that he can’t rock nearly as hard as he’d like. He tries to pull off Replacements-style rock, complete with his best Paul Westerberg impersonation, on “Nuclear” and “Starting to Hurt” but ends up sounding like a country-fried Johnny Rzeznik.
Demolition’s finer moments occur when Adams sets aside the electric guitar and snarl. He shows a deft hand at penning soulful country tunes, most notably “Cry on Demand,” where he adopts a croon like his country-rock idol Gram Parsons. Adams gets a little out of line with the jokey “Tennessee Sucks,” but if he can keep his wild side in check, there’s no reason why he can’t continue to write good country songs.
At just 27-years-old, Ryan Adams has a lot of career ahead of him. If he chooses the singer-songwriter road, he certainly has the talent to become as accomplished as Gram Parsons. But if he would rather be a hip young rocker, well, that’s OK too.