Here’s another reminder of just how much time has slipped away since the Whiskeytown era: Today marks exactly 15 years since the release of Heartbreaker, Ryan Adams’ first solo album. Even though the band hadn’t “officially” broken up at that point, and its in-limbo album Pneumonia wouldn’t be released until the following May, I’ve still always thought of Heartbreaker as the official end of Ryan’s Whiskeytown period. He was certainly talking about Whiskeytown in the past tense in the No Depression magazine feature I wrote for Heartbreaker’s release. And a year later, the mainstream was in the process of finally discovering Ryan with his second (and inferior, at least to me) solo album Gold.
Here’s a pretty solid track-by-track dissection. I am a little embarrassed to admit that, as noted in chapter 12 of “Losering,” my initial reaction to Heartbreaker at the time was disappointment that it didn’t have any of the astounding material I’d seen Ryan play live during his fall 1999 shows (“Hey There Mrs. Lovely,” “Oh My Sweet Valentine,” “Born Yesterday” and other songs you can find nowadays on bootlegs like Destroyer). But that feeling didn’t last because Heartbreaker was and is extraordinary — a perfect snapshot of Ryan finding himself artistically at a moment when his life and career seemed to be falling apart. I still think it’s the best of his officially released solo albums, and it would have outsold Gold by multiples were there an ounce of justice in this world. At least it’s the top-selling album in the history of Bloodshot Records, so that’s something.
Ryan himself has had some harsh and flippant things to say about Heartbreaker over the years, including this dismissively withering 2006 self-assessment:
If you are a redneck or want to be disappointed with me buy Heartbreaker. But it’s utter shit and I didn’t mean a word of it.
Maybe he really meant that. But Ryan says a lot of things, and I think it matters more that a decade and a half later, he still plays Heartbreaker tunes like “Come Pick Me Up” and “Oh My Sweet Carolina” onstage pretty much every night. And it seems as though his feelings toward Heartbreaker have softened just a bit. In the wee small hours of this morning, Ryan tweeted this:
Happy 15th Anniversary, Heartbreaker!!!
You’re too long, overly earnest & a lil’ wordy but damnit you’re all mine.
That’s fair. So here’s to Heartbreaker — and the ongoing hope that the heartbreak kid has still got another record like that in him.