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Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Twelfth

August 31, 2006

12. To Be the One—Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker - To Be the One

Ryan Adams has become progressively harder to like, even for those of us—Dylan fans, alt-country aficionados, Southern boys in New York—with a genetic predisposition for Ryan Adams-liking. Mr. Adams has become an egomaniac, a poseur, fame-addicted, over-prolific and, to be honest, kind of just a dick. None of which excludes him from appreciation (see: Dylan, above); rather it’s his laziness, of late, in his songwriting.

Every now and again he shows a bit of genius—some of the songs on his originally two-part Love Is Hell album, for example, and parts of Cold Roses—but more often than not the costs (in time and, given the number of records he releases, in money) of being a Ryan Adams-liker outweigh the benefits.

Not so with his earlier work, of which his first solo album, Heartbreaker—on which you’ll find this cut, “To Be the One”—is the indisputable apex. The record starts out rocking, loose and freewheeling with “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” and then quickly downshifts, where it remains for the rest of the album.

There are many highlights—”Oh My Sweet Carolina,” a gorgeous duet between Mr. Adams and Emmylou Harris, may be my favorite—and arguably no duds. The record, as the cover suggests, is a cigarette lying back on the bed, looping slow smoke curls upward. “To Be the One” is fine, too, all broke-down worry and unrequited passion and longing.

However, as someone once said (there is some disagreement as to whom), writing about music is like dancing about architecture—which means my words can’t hope to do justice to this song’s singing … so I’ll just leave you with this couplet:

And the empty bottle it misses you
Yeah and I’m the one that it’s talking to

It’s talking to me less and less these days.

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