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Quantity, Not Quality 

Ryan Adams could benefit from a good editor.

There'll be a new Ryan Adams record out shortly -- there always is. When it drops, we'll endure the same fawning declamations about Adams' amazingly prolific output -- as if this were incontrovertible proof of his genius.

It's not entirely his fault. If you surround yourself with sycophants, you start to believe their bullshit. "In Adams' case, I haven't heard a bad song yet," critic Robert Hilburn fawned in a 2002 L.A. Times Magazine piece, comparing him to Bob Dylan. Adams' ego never needed much encouragement -- just ask his Whiskeytown bandmates, who had to endure tantrums and frequent firings.

But this isn't about Adams' public feuds with other musicians, his audience-baiting, his erratic performances, or his onstage meltdown after idol Paul Westerberg repaid Adams' own sycophancy with a blistering public disavowal. This is about accepting your limitations -- or, in Adams' case, realizing that you have some.

While other musicians take years to craft records, in hopes of creating something artistically honest, Adams writes the same songs time and again, dressing them up in different guises -- from Faithless Street through last year's troika of releases: The first, Cold Roses, was a double album that would have made a strong single disc; the second, Jacksonville City Nights, was gussied-up traditional country that came off as a tribute record; and with 29, Adams delivered his worst record, a desultory affair, full of vaguely familiar, going-nowhere melodies and facile emotionalism.

Had he concentrated on creating a batch of, say, 14 songs instead of 40, the results would undoubtedly have been more impressive. But then we wouldn't be talking about Ryan Adams, prolific genius.

Speaking of Shorts

More by John Schacht

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