Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rocktober: The Curse Of Being Prolific?

I'll tell you who really irritates me:  critics who malign a musician for creating too much music. Case in point is the generous output of Mr. Ryan Adams, a songwriter who is often at the peak of his skills, but who has struggled with finding the proper vehicles for his many, many songs.  His new eponymous CD contains some of his best work, some great songs, but it is difficult to celebrate that too much when I know how long it has been since he last put out new material.  He even tossed off a Minutemen-like CD of brief, punk numbers on the side just for the hell of it, as if to remind everyone that he can write riffs and hooks in his sleep whenever he feels like it.

See, whatever record company Adams is with at the time tends to give him a hard time, sending CDs back because they aren't enough "something," like the brilliant Love Is Hell, which he was only allowed to release as a pair of EPs, after he cranked out Rock And Roll to satisfy the sound demands of the corporate execs (this CD is superb in its own right, regardless of the conditions under which it was recorded).  Said company also  forced Demolition, a CD comprised of the "best" tracks from 5 different CDs Adams had recorded in different styles ranging from rock to bluegrass.

But if, like me, you tracked down versions of those original CDs (48 Hours, The Suicide Handbook, and others), then you know how many other good to great songs are out there.  You also there are a bunch of great songs on III/IV, the leftover tracks from his work with The Cardinals.  Maybe you've even heard the Elizabethtown demos, good songs from a not-so-good movie.

The point being that Mr. Ryan Adams writes a ton of songs and I, for one, welcome any and all output from him.  I don't expect that it will all be "great," but I'm pretty sure that most of it will be interesting.  The Beatles, as we recall, averaged about two albums a year during their now-brief career.  But Adams, who became at some point, the Great _______ Hope, never could quite meet critics' expectations, so they went after his sprawling talent, implying a lack of discipline and coherency.  Not me.  I miss him any time he isn't putting out new stuff.  Hell, I bought $150 worth of live, solo acoustic stuff recorded in Europe with many repeated songs, just to bridge the gap.  So, much as I am enjoying Ryan Adams, his excellent new CD, I have yet to be convinced that it is better than it would have been had it come out three years ago.

I'll tell you who I've really begun to appreciate:  critics who malign a musician for creating too much music.  Case in point is the unfiltered output of Mr. Neil Young, a songwriter who has produced some of the most meaningful and memorable music over the last 5 decades, but who seems to think that, these days, anything that he thinks is worth putting out is worth putting out.  That includes any live recordings from his past, a CD about an alternatively-fueled car, and a CD of lugubrious standards recorded in Jack White's phone booth.

For years, decades even, Mr. Young was able to put out a fascinatingly-eclectic mix of songs recorded off the cuff, one-take wonders, demos, things that the other musicians thought were rehearsals, and not only get away with it, but also generate some great, spontaneous, brilliant work.  But I think people have had enough.  I think even I have, and I list Neil as my favorite musical performer for Internet security questions.

At some point, though I'm not sure when, I started to feel ripped off by the very artist I admire because he seems to have lost any sense of the quality of his material or his production values, or worse, doesn't seem to care.  Young's proliferation of songs used to be his strength, with hidden gems surfacing at concerts and appearing years later on CDs, but as covers have replaced original songs in his output, and when even original songs are spotty in terms of quality, it is time to argue that it is time for Mr. Young to pull back and to learn some discernment and refinement of his material.

Of his last studio 10 CDs, dating back 11 years, I would argue that three of them--Greendale, Prairie Wind, and Psychedelic Pill--are superior works.  I know that some, perhaps many, people would not even go that far with me.  Living With War and Chrome Dreams have their moments, but overall, both are too flawed or uneven to be enjoyed as whole CD listening experiences.  And now it seems like critics who have given Young the benefit of the doubt are speaking more brutal truths.  Or, at least, like me, are saying, what the heck?  Expect that to ramp up now that Young has left his wife for Darryl Hannah.  But it saddens me to realize that, for my musical companion of 44 years, great music from him has become the exception, rather than the rule.

Me, I'd much rather an artist put out too much material instead of too little. No doubt about it.  One of the reasons I never took Pink Floyd very seriously was because they have a pathetically minuscule body of work for a band that's been around for five decades.  I mean, what were they doing all that time?  Songwriters write songs; that's what they are supposed to do.  And until they become a bit too unhinged, those songs are what I want to hear.  I hope Ryan Adams puts out another CD next month.  I'd buy it.


Nichols Fleet Equipment said...

Agreement on the self-titled Ry-Ry. Ash and I had the conversation the other day that no matter how much he has pissed me off with his childish antics in the past (I credit him with easily the most disappointing concert experience of my life), his potential for greatness makes anything he does worth at least one spin. Per any Adams release, the Whiskeytown-or-nothing nerds have written this newest effort off as "Dad Rock" (is that bad thing or am I just a dad now and this appeals to some altered chemical composition in my lizard-dad brain?) and lacking something, but I think it's very solid and really like it. Hell, even "Heartbreaker" has tracks I skip just forget about those because the good songs on it are so, so great.

Kath said...

Love the structure of this post, Bob.

Also, "Dad Rock" is in!! One of my fave cultural commenters live-tweeted how she made a "Dad" playlist to rule them all.