For Matthew Ryan, Nashville’s closest answer to Bruce Springsteen, Dear Lover: The Acoustic Version proves that album could have been his Nebraska, had it not been recorded with all manner of synthetic flourishes. That’s not to say Dear Lover was a good or bad album – those reviews have already been written, and that debate had its season. Rather, this acoustic version makes an interesting musical argument that the album needs to be heard from two different angles in order to fully deliver.
So let’s put all the arguments aside and think just about the songs themselves. They, my friends, is why Dear Lover: The Acoustic Version is a worthy addition to Matthew Ryan’s canon. This acoustic version of the album provides us with an opportunity to hear these songs again and wonder at the way Ryan manages to write so succinctly about the communication gaps which plague relationships of all backgrounds. There’s an economy of words here that’s worthy of a lot more credit than he’s usually given, mostly because we’ve come to expect genius with every Matthew Ryan release. It’s unfortunate, because such expectations are the biggest reason we’re often able to overlook it when given something harder to swallow.
The songs are also the biggest reason why debating which version of Dear Lover is superior is a wasted effort. The reason both versions are necessary is because every relationship features arguments from both sides, highs and lows that ebb and flow. When Ryan sings “we might be fucked . . . goddamn it, so what?” on the electric version we hear a scorching guitar over drums as he growls the words. “Tell me what you want!” he yells, frustration pouring out of every second of contradiction. But the acoustic version shows him relenting after the battle, both sides having been shredded in the war of words. The fight is gone, he just wants to know how the relationship can be made to work — or if there’s anything left worth working on. “I could be your superhero or I could be your biggest disappointment” takes on a whole new meaning. The sincerity of the song is ultimately its strongest selling point, in both versions.
Consider Dear Lover: The Acoustic Version to be an alternate way to hear the entire album from a different perspective, much as we would most aspects of our lives in the real world, and the album takes on a whole new spectrum of depth. Whether you love or hate the album, it’s clearly the most difficult album Ryan has released to date, but that’s because it says more in these dozen songs than he’s tried to put to paper in a dozen albums. Which is all the more reason anyone who dares to say he or she cares for meaningful music should be sitting down and at least giving these versions of familiar songs a chance to be heard.
Relationships sure as hell aren’t easy. So there’s no reason we should expect great albums to be easy either.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.