"Love is Hell" had a weird, twisted path before it finally settled on this smoky all-in-one album. Singer/songwriter Ryan Adams churns out visions of lonely hotel rooms and rainy nights, with only a few duds along the way. It's a wonderful return to spare, well-written rock with a country-bluesy edge.
Adams starts off with a sweet piano solo that blossoms into the thoughtful "Political Scientist." Then he sets off on a slightly uneven path of downbeat ballads ("Afraid Not Scared," the piano-led "Avalanche") and meditative rockers (the slow "City Rain City Streets," the bland title song), before rounding off on the melancholy "Hotel Chelsea Nights."
The story of "Love is Hell" is a little strange. Adams created the "Love is Hell" album, only to have it rejected, split in half and released separately, then mashed back together as a single disc. Music execs -- who knows what they think? But the single-disc "Love is Hell" is in some ways better than its separate halves. It feels more cohesive and smooth.
Adams eschews the usual rock instrumentals for a sleeker sound, full of piano solos and spare guitar riffs. His singing is sad, but shows signs of optimism; he wears his heart on his sleeve, and uses it as a guitar pick. And the songwriting is at worst good, at best excellent. "I am going to push them away/falling through the leaves of the winter trees/drowning slowly..." he tells us. And he sounds like he means it.
Now one album (as it was meant to be), Ryan Adams' "Love is Hell" is a dark, chilly, whisky-soaked collection of outstanding rock'n'roll. Love may be hell, but it's a well-crafted hell.