Sixteen years after its original release, and fourteen studio albums later, Ryan Adams has put out a deluxe reissue of his first, and most adored LP – Heartbreaker.
Heartbreaker was Adams’ first solo effort after disbanding from Whiskeytown, the 90s alt-country outfit from North Carolina. This deluxe reissue contains 20 bonus outtakes and demos, on top of the album’s original track-list of 15 songs. It also holds the full concert film of an acoustic performance given at New York City’s Mercury Lounge in October 2000, the first time Adams ever performed his revered cover of ‘Wonderwall’.
The original release was critically acclaimed, but praise from critics failed to translate into album sales – indeed, at the time, it wasn’t considered commercially viable to release any singles from the LP. This is especially surprising considering that Heartbreaker features many of Adams’ most celebrated tracks, including ‘Winding Wheel’, ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’, and ‘Come Pick Me Up’.
Arguably, this reissue is a conciliatory, extended hand to his passionate and committed fanbase. Heartbreaker is the Ryan Adams record that is still often cited as his most consistent and most earnest release, untainted by the controversy of his altercations with journalists like Jim DeRogatis, artists like Jack White, and even audience members at his own gigs throughout the 2000s.
Often the subject of media criticism, and the victim of long, dark periods of substance abuse, this 2016 reissue is an olive branch for those who helped begin a successful and revered solo career that continues today.
“The outtakes and demos delight with raw versions of original favourites, and the patter and asides are bonus insights into the creation and context of this seminal album”
Most of the subject matter of the original album was inspired by Adams’ break-up with the music industry publicist Amy Lombardi. The deeply personal, poignant, and affecting sentiments of Adams’ lyrics, set variously to delicate acoustic harmonies, country ballads and driving, electric blues tunes, cemented the album as a touchstone break-up record, a legacy that will survive the aforementioned controversy of his solo career.
At times nostalgic, at others expectant, hollowed-out, angry, anxious, and resigned, this record adds to the wealth of musical reflections on the nature of love and heartbreak: the fragility of relationships, the vulnerability they elicit, the pain when they can’t be sustained.
For an album with such emphases, it’s surprising to hear on its opening track, ‘(Argument with David Rawlings Concerning Morrissey)’, a jovial studio outtake concerning the first appearance of ‘Hairdresser on Fire’ and the words “he’s got a mouthful o’ cookies!”
Its inclusion, however, sets the tone in terms of the personality and intimacy of this record; a tone that decidedly informs this deluxe reissue as well. The first of the bonus tracks, ‘Hairdresser on Fire Jam (Outtake)’, explains the context of the original album’s opener, as an impromptu Morrissey cover leads to the argument between Adams and Rawlings that became the introduction to Heartbreaker.
Equally, the included outtake version of ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ features a brief conversation between Adams and folk legend Emmylou Harris, cut off as someone reminds them that the tape is rolling. They only talk about guitars – no revelations or surprises – but it’s a charming and inviting inclusion, adding to the intimacy of this reissue, and inflecting the meandering flow of these demos and outtakes before the homesick duet begins.
Making this cut, but only featuring on the original bonus release in France, is ‘Goodbye Honey’, a bluesy farewell that would have adorned the ending of the original release with a touch of closure – something that was left wanting on ‘Sweet Lil Gal (23rd / 1st)’. A touch of closure, yes, acceptance and amnesty, perhaps not. The lines of “it’s nice to see you” and “maybe we will see you again” that open the track turn into “it’s been a long time coming and I won’t miss you”.
“Adams’ reiteration here is no less candid an admission of the relentlessly hopeful nature of romance, despite our awareness of its fragility, its contingency, and the heartbreak that it can deliver.”
The only brand-new appearance from the Heartbreaker sessions here is ‘Locked Away (Outtake)’, an electric, alt-country track that reflects on the relationship with a little more optimism. “Call me anytime”, he hopefully hollers, “I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine.” Other tracks on this reissue that didn’t appear on Heartbreaker have resurfaced over time on later releases – ‘Don’t Fail Me Now’ made it to 2005’s Jacksonville City Nights, ‘Petal in a Rainstorm’ appeared on Ashes & Fire in 2011, and ‘When The Rope Gets Tight’ was a 2015 B-side to an “alternative take” of ‘Come Pick Me Up’.
As with the 2000 release, this album revolves around ‘Come Pick Me Up’. “Come pick me up, take me out, fuck me up, steal my records,” he implores, “Screw all my friends […] with a smile on your face, and then do it again…”
Despite its ostensibly pitiful and self-depreciating tone, emphasised by the wailing, repeated refrain – “I wish you would” – Adams observes the willingness with which we repeatedly stake so much hope and faith on something as inherently capricious as romance.
An enduring sentiment that is central to famous representations of modern love, from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall to ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, Adams’ reiteration here is no less candid an admission of the relentlessly hopeful nature of romance, despite our awareness of its fragility, its contingency, and the heartbreak that it can deliver.
Heartbreaker is consistently held up as one of Adams’ finest records, and for good reason. This reissue represents the artist who is ready to give back – the outtakes and demos delight with raw versions of original favourites, and the patter and asides are bonus insights into the creation and context of this seminal album.
James is currently listening to ‘Identikit’ by Radiohead.