Rage Before Beauty

Second album of the year, recorded with just a four-track and a healthy dose of vitriol

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Four months ago, Uncut gave a four-star review to an album called Concussion by Matthew Ryan, which included a duet with Lucinda Williams and came with a personal endorsement from Steve Earle that he was “one of the best songwriters I’ve seen come out of Nashville”. Now comes another album, Happiness, while a completely different record, called Regret Over The Wires, is being simultaneously released in America.

So what’s going on? To compound the confusion, in July, we included a track from Concussion on the free CD that comes with this magazine and mistakenly described it as Ryan’s debut. In fact, Concussion turns out to have been his third album. Released in America back in 2001, it took two years to find a label here, and so Britain is now playing catch-up.

Happiness is not exactly a new album either, but a compilation of two Internet-only Ryan releases called Dissent From The Living Room and Hopeless To Hopeful, which Ryan recorded on a four-track in between making Concussion and Regret Over The Wires, which should appear here some time next year. Which in total makes six albums in the six years since Ryan made his debut back in 1997, with May Day, at the age of 25. Got all that?

If not, never mind. Just go out and buy Happiness. Spare and stripped, musically its spirit lies somewhere between Leonard Cohen’s debut and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker, with bursts of feedback for added grit.

But what makes Happiness more than just another sad troubadour record is the positively Dylanesque viciousness of Ryan’s rage. “With a fucker like you, tell me, who needs enemies?”, he rails on “fd29yrblues”.

On “Veteran’s Day” he broadens his wrath to take on the politicians who “pull the triggers” but “never carry the guns”. On “The Ballad Of So And So”, it’s the shallowness of the music industry that draws his ire: “I gotta lay it down false ’cause the truth don’t sell.” Frankly, he makes Eminem sound like a wuss.


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