Singer-songwriters are making a comeback, and it’s about time. A welcome change from the manufactured pop icons who have dominated the charts over the last couple of years, this is a breed of artist that actually plays instruments (gasp!) and writes their own lyrics.
What happens when a self-proclaimed “Loser” gets his heart broken (awww), goes back to his early influences (Joni Mitchell, for one) and decides to record an album? You get Sea Change, Beck’s latest, and many argue, best, album. Don’t get me wrong – the album is good, especially if you like slow, sad, acoustic-type songs. Sea Change starts off strong with tracks like “The Golden Age” and “Paper Tiger,” but it never goes anywhere, making it hard to stay interested. It’s an excellent album to fall asleep to, and not in that “my-monotone-professor-is-still-talking” way either. Rather, it’s relaxing and a bit depressing, exactly the kind of thing you’d want to put on after getting dumped. Still, I miss the funk, variety and energy of earlier albums such as Odelay, which is still my favorite Beck album.
You may not be as familiar with Ryan Adams. The former Whiskeytown frontman just released his third solo album, Demolition, which, as the title implies, is a collection of demos and unfinished material. Strangely enough, these “incomplete tracks” are his best material yet. No Ryan Adams CD would be complete without gut-wrenching heartbreak, and Demolition certainly has its share of that. However, this album also has a driving energy that Gold, Adams’ 2001 release, lacked. Gillian Welch is once again a welcome addition on background vocals, but Demolition also features Adams’ best singing to date. He also plays guitar, harmonica and bass, produces several tracks and writes lyrics that are sometimes simplistic, but always genuine. In my humble opinion (okay, maybe not so humble), Adams is the most talented young songwriter around today.
In short, both of these albums are worth listening to, despite their imperfections, and the sheer talent of both Adams and Beck blows singers who aren’t songwriters clean out of the water.
[Angela Potter is gonna play hooky on the 23rd to see Ryan … don’t tell anyone! Pinkie swear!]