Faithless Street (specifically the expanded edition from 3 years later) is one of my favourite albums of the 1990s and easily my favourite alt country album of all time. I went through a phase where I was chasing that dragon a bit, listening to the other Whiskeytown records and some Adams solo stuff, and never getting getting the same experience. The later Whiskeytown records are more ambitious but don’t hit that sweet spot for me. And the solo stuff I’ve heard is notably more polished. (In part because of sobriety.)
This record hits a bit of a sweet spot for those of us looking for that early Whiskeytown sound – it’s by no means as rough but it is far less polished than his later solo career and the music is far less ambitious than the later Whiskeytown stuff. I understand the acclaim at the time and I understand why some still maintain its his best solo record. (I have by no means heard enough of his solo records but the few I have lead me to think it’s true.)
This is a pretty great set of songs and what makes Adams so compelling as a songwriter is pretty much on full display here. I haven’t lived with this record like I have lived with Faithless Street but I can imagine if I had found this when I found that record, I might love it as much. I would say it isn’t anywhere near as good, but I have no idea how objective I can be, given my stated feelings about that first Whiskeytown record, which I love unconditionally.
The vibe is certainly more mature and not anywhere near as deliriously reeling. There are distinct influences present here and there, too. For example, “To Be Young” sure sounds like it wants to be on Highway 61 Revisited or Blonde on Blonde. That’s probably the most egregious example but it definitely feels a little less distinct, sonically, than Whiskeytown did.
And now I have to deal with the thing I don’t want to deal with. I came to Adams as a songwriter before I knew anything about him personally, and before his divorce. Because of that my emotional attachment to his particular brand of songwriting – a kind I really enjoy – predates my intellectual knowledge that he is likely a gigantic asshole. (Even post-sobriety, it seems.) I am a firm believer in killing your idols – in having no behavioural expectations about the artists you like, in this case – but it still hurt to learn the things he was accused of. Had I never encountered his music before the accusations I likely would be ranking this record much lower, I suspect, to add to a chorus of disapproval in the hope that such public shaming discourages further behaviour by people like him. But I can’t help but be a fan of his songwriting, even when it’s too slick with the Cardinals.
And so I find myself struggling with this record I like more than any other record of his I’ve heard outside of Faithless Street, knowing that my fandom contributes in a very, very small way to enabling a jerk.