I mean, shit, Ryan Adams is prolific, you've got to give him that: He released almost 30 new songs in 2003. Reportedly, what happened is that Adams made a record titled Love Is Hell but scrapped it after he and his label couldn't decide if it was the right collection of songs to follow up 2001's Gold. So, at the last minute, Adams and some buddies made a completely different record in a New York basement, which became Rock N Roll, the official release. But now Love Is Hell has also been released as two EPs. Fancy that.
Biographical information aside, Adams has made some mistakes. Most of Rock N Roll is worthless crap. The record finds the songwriter spouting inane lyrics over bland, '70s-influenced guitar riffs. On "This Is It," the album's opener, he sings, "Let me sing a song for you/That's never been sung before/All the words were meant for you/And never been said before." Meanwhile, the music throughout the entire record shamelessly rips off everyone from the Replacements, Bruce Springsteen, and U2 to Nirvana and Alice Cooper, with lyrics that describe emotions disembodied from any tangible context. It's unfortunate that Adams opted for this approach, because it makes Rock N Roll's few moments of beauty -- the distinctly un-rock 'n' roll title track and the Joy Division-fronted-by-Bono "So Alive" -- seem very out of place.
While it would be perfectly easy to chalk up Rock N Roll's failure to whatever self-loathing, self-consciousness, or self-hype Adams has subscribed to since he first entered the public eye, we still have Love Is Hell, an intimate, catchy and evocative collection. It's confusing, I know. Here, acoustic guitars, crafty, poignant lyrics and quietly sung vocals create a moody, thoroughly enjoyable song cycle. The prescription is simple: Combine both Love Is Hell EPs, tack on the few good moments of Rock N Roll, and call it a day. Why this didn't occur to Ryan Adams and his record label is beyond me.