This is impossible. Ranking Ryan Adams’s albums is like ranking … I dunno, episodes of Seinfeld or something. They’re all good. They’re all kind of similar, even the weird ones. They’re all loaded with brilliant details and moments you may have missed at the time that jump out at you when you revisit them, years later. They all have highlights and flaws — though the highlight:flaw ratio varies a great deal from one example to the next. And there are so goddamn many of them that they all sort of blend together at some point.
It’s amazing, really, to consider the depth of Adams’s catalog already. Of course prolificacy was always one of his defining qualities, but even if you strip his output to its bare essentials — leaving out the horrible detours into punk and metal (the Finger and Orion, respectively, neither of which demands serious consideration from fans of those genres), leaving out the EPs and the Pax-Am singles, not to mention the hundreds of yet-unreleased songs/albums (we’re still waiting for the apocryphal 20:20 box set which is said to compile much of that material) — you’re still left with a dozen studio albums since the split of Whiskeytown in 2000. Moreover, THREE of those are DOUBLE albums … and the dude “retired” from music in 2009! (Came back strong in 2010, natch.)
Of course anyone can churn out song after song — and Adams sure does that! — but almost nothing in his extensive catalog feels utterly cast off or wasteful (again excepting the Finger and Orion here). That’s not to say it’s all entirely essential, of course, nor that quality control has never been an issue. This list takes under consideration only Adams’s 12 post-Whiskeytown albums (both solo and with the Cardinals), ranking them from worst to best — putting aside the vast alternative-universe discography mentioned above, as well as the three excellent albums from Whiskeytown (whose inclusion would have made this task exponentially more difficult — no small feat, considering it was impossible to begin with). The countdown starts here; make your case for Demolition in the comments.