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At the end of this “song week” on my blog, I’m considering our strong opinions about music. We’re a discriminating lot, we like this and dislike that. I wonder: Are there any objective quality criteria we could agree on for pop music? With classical music it seems easier. Who would dare say that Beethoven wrote “bad” music, even if he doesn’t happen to be your favorite composer? So could we agree on any criteria for good pop?

For me it comes down to integrity. That, however, is not always easy to define. Compare these two interpretations:

Ashes & Fire (album version)

So, this is my take: At first, when I heard the unplugged version online I thought, wow, this is really nice! So I went and bought the album.

But listening, song by song, I found that Adams seems to be “doing Dylan”. Sometimes he “does” James Taylor. He just doesn’t seem to “do” Ryan Adams! It became clear that his lyrics are predictable (indeed, “a river she cried” is cribbed from “Cry Me a River”), so they aren’t original or fresh. Ian Cohen in Pitchfork slams much of the album as “trite”, and quips that there’s more ashes here than fire. I agree. It’s OK for a hotel lobby, perhaps. But not for me.

Ashes & Fire (Ryan Adams, 2011)

As he stared past the fire
His hunger to leave, well, it gnawed his poor heart alive
Her skin smelled like black cherry blossom perfume
The sail boats they all sailed by
And a river she cried

And the wind was suddenly sweeter than Roosevelt Pine
The windows broke out and the cigarette smoke was drifting by
The bums on the bowery were swallowed in the lights
As cars rumbled by in the night
Screaming: Run for your life.

With cool and silvery eyes
And a heart that was fit for desire,
Drowned in a river of tears
Oh a river she cried
Left her with a heart
Made of ashes and fire.

One day there was a silence and it washed through the town
And there was no reason to speak so nobody made a sound
Her eyes were indigo
And the cats was all calico
And the sail boats they all sailed by
And a river she cried.

With cool and silvery eyes
And a heart that was fit for desire
Drowned in a river of tears
Oh a river she cried left her with a heart
Made of ashes and fire.
Ashes and fire, ashes and fire, ashes and fire.

song week :-) learning english with songwriters