Perusing my seemingly endless catalog of music-blogs, I found this interesting list from a new discovery, Rawkblog. The list itself is fun, even if it’s pretentious in places (but what music blog, self included, manages to avoid pretension entirely?). And it’s always nice to find someone whose tastes overlap with yours, but not completely, allowing you to go off and explore some new music. (The musical equivalent of the transitive theory that the friend of a friend is also your friend and the enemy of your friend is your enemy.)
At any rate, aside from generally enjoying music and lists and lists of music especially, I found myself floored at the 9th best album of the 2000s – some album called Suicide Handbook by Ryan Adams. Hold on, I cried. A Ryan Adams album I don’t know about? Never officially released, says Rawkblog? Then how have some people heard it? How is it the #9 album of the entire decade of the 2000s? How did this happen without my knowledge? How did the internet let me down so bad??? Naturally, I commenced Googling at once and managed to track down what I think is a complete copy of this mysterious, unreleased masterpiece by one of my all-time favorite musicians. Of course, I can’t be sure what I have is actually IT, and there are some (occasional) imperfections in the audio, but for the most part the sound is great, and it appears to jibe with all the tracklists I found in my frantic internet searching. I will leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide how to find this album, or whether it bears finding at all.
The story – as I merely understand it from Wikipedia, let’s be honest – is that Adams delivered the album to his record company on the heels of his success with his solo debut, Heartbreaker. His record company then declined to release it, saying it was “too sad.” (You will notice I am not attributing this quotation to anyone; this entire story could be completely fabricated, but I am presenting it for these purposes as I have cobbled it together from all kinds of websites with totally unknown reliability.) So Adams went back and recorded a new album, eventually called Gold, a more commercial-leaning album, with plenty of production and a big, classic, rock & roll sound produced by Ethan Johns.
Now, the Suicide Handbook album itself is a revelation as far as I’m concerned; it includes some of my favorite songs from Gold, a couple tracks that have surfaced on other Adams albums like Demolition and Love Is Hell, but all stripped down to the barest, Heartbreaker-like bones. There are also a good number of songs I have never heard before. It's good, real good. It's the sequel I've always wanted to Heartbreaker, in keeping with that sparse, beautiful folk-y sound Adams created on his debut (with production help from Gillian Welch and David Rawlings). How in the world did I not know that he had MADE it already?!?! Some lyrics are exposed in startling ways -- underneath some catchy, breezy songs I liked on Gold were some wrenching, beautiful lyrics. I mean, the songs have always been sad, but taken as a whole, you can see why this album was going to have such a, well, macabre title. And you can see why (as the internet would have it) the label said they wouldn't release it. These are internet rumors I choose to believe, thank you very much! The re-purposed (or pre-purposed!) songs are not just interesting from a compare and contrast perspective -- comparing them to those versions people like I am more familiar with from Adams' official releases -- they are excellent songs in any format, but this album feels of a single piece. The sound, spare-but-lovely production, melancholy songwriting, all of it, fits perfectly in this (nonexistent) package. It’s an excellent album from beginning to end and a shame it never got the actual, physical package it deserved; my only criticism at all is that I didn’t know it existed for so long. I certainly feel like a second-class Ryan Adams fan, believe me.
Thanks to Rawkblog for (finally) cluing me in. And thanks to the internet for (eventually) providing me with what I assume is the actual music (for free, natch). You are now welcome to go and do likewise.
Since I have no idea what the album art was ever going to be, I am including in the post what seem to be two strong possibilities, according to the internet. Of course, they are very likely created by rabid fans and never so much as seen by Ryan Adams or his record company. I like them all the same.