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Ryan Adams: Prisoner

Ryan Adams: Prisoner

Offers a note-perfect salve to those broken hearts facing yet another lonely night in the dead of winter.

Ryan Adams: Prisoner

4.25 / 5

For someone previously as prolific and creatively and personally unfiltered as Ryan Adams has long proven himself to be, the three years in between new releases shows an indication of some larger personal turmoil. This being his 16th solo studio album since his 2000 debut, Heartbreaker, Adams has, over the course of his catalog, made heartache and loneliness something of a thematic staple. And yet it would seem that these most recent personal blows (divorce, death of friends, etc.) have given Adams pause, causing him to take longer than usual to process that which has directly impacted him. The Adams heard here on Prisoner is a far cry from the cocky voice who once posited that to be young was to be sad.

There’s an immediate sense of familiarity inherent on Prisoner. Yet it’s hard to say for sure whether it’s an emotional or musical familiarity. Adams has talked before of his songs existing and being birthed within the moment, as though they simply existed on some other plane and were simply waiting for the right person to come along to act as a vessel for their transition from the ephemeral to the tangible. Perhaps what makes Adams’ work so resonant is this ability to tap into the universal unconscious from which we pull our emotional connections with the world around us; there is nothing revelatory in his lyrical themes, yet the way in which he presents the seemingly mundane proves highly affecting.

Blistering lead single (and opening track) “Do You Still Love Me” lays bare the overarching thematic elements of Prisoner. While Adams himself has made reference to the title reflecting one’s being a prisoner to time, it would seem more that Adams himself is a prisoner to his own heartbreak – somewhat ironic given the title of his solo debut. Depending on your tolerance for breakup albums, Prisoner will either be the necessary emotional catharsis required to get you through the bitterness of emotional heartache or yet another maudlin exercise in tiring self-indulgence and navel-gazing. Song titles like “To Be Without You,” “Broken Anyway,” “Anything I Say to You Now” and “We Disappear” offer the illusion of enough self-pity to turn anyway those not familiar with Adams’ very specific aesthetic.

Fortunately for Adams, the majority of those coming to his work in general will be in the former category and thus know exactly what they will be getting themselves into. In this, Prisoner provides exactly what fans have come to expect of Adams’ workmanlike approach to song craft, one that has shown a staggering level of overall quality for someone as prolific as Adams has long been. Indeed, there is nary a weak track to be found on Prisoner, which offers a solid listen from top to bottom, making it clear that perhaps a little more time between releases might be a good thing in terms of Adams’ lack of self-editing.

For everyone else, Prisoner will likely play as a pleasant enough set of vaguely MOR/’80s singer-songwriter-style emotional paeans. Given the dissolution of his marriage to former pop tart Mandy Moore, Adams is ripe for emotionally-charged introspection. Like Beck before him, whose 2002 break-up fueled album Sea Change could be seen as something of a spiritual predecessor, Adams wears his broken heart prominently and unapologetically on his tattered flannel sleeves. Yet where Beck’s detour into emotionally nuanced territory was a surprisingly mature stylistic departure, Adams’ own move functions essentially as more of the same. Of course “the same” is often of such high quality and effortlessness that it’s easy to forget just how hard it can and should be to write so accessibly, proficiently and prolifically. Prisoner is no exception to this now firmly-established rule, each song one a lesser artist would kill to have but one of on an album.

Nearly every song here smacks of the familiar, be it in the lyrical tropes Adams finds himself relying on time and again or the easy melodicism he applies to each of these dozen tracks. With producer Don Was behind the boards, Prisoner rightly carries with it a sheen reminiscent of the ‘80s artists and aesthetics Adams is clearly aping. “Haunted House,” “Outbound Train” (with echoes of both Bruce Springsteen and an uptempo 10cc doing “I’m Not In Love”) and “Doomsday” could just as easily have come from Don Henley circa-“Boys of Summer” or Joshua Tree-era U2. In other words, he deftly manages a timelessness here that, coupled with the universally applicable thematic material, comes across as instantly familiar and not beholden to any one era of popular music over another.

I miss your loving touch, I miss your embrace/ But if I wait here any longer I’m gonna fade away,” he sings on “Shiver and Shake” over atmospheric synths reminiscent of Springsteen’s “Fire.” It’s but one of many allusions to his influences and emotionally damaged forbearers. Because of this approach, Prisoner feels, from the very first listen, like an album that has been with us for decades. There’s nothing remarkable or career-defining, just more of the highly satisfying same, this time delivered with a level of vulnerability that helps emphasize Adams’ previously lacking humanistic qualities. More so now than ever, the emotional sentiments on display feel the product of genuine heartache and loss rather than someone working to playing a prescribed role. Coming just three days after Valentine’s Day, Prisoner offers a note-perfect salve to those broken hearts
For someone previously as prolific and creatively and personally unfiltered as Ryan Adams has long proven himself to be, the three years in between new releases shows an indication of some larger personal turmoil. This being his 16th solo studio album since his 2000 debut, Heartbreaker, Adams has, over the course of his catalog, made heartache and loneliness something of a thematic staple. And yet it would seem that these most recent personal blows (divorce, death of friends, etc.) have given Adams pause, causing him to take longer than usual to process that which has directly impacted him. The Adams heard here on Prisoner is a far cry from the cocky voice who once posited that to be young was to be sad.

There’s an immediate sense of familiarity inherent on Prisoner. Yet it’s hard to say for sure whether it’s an emotional or musical familiarity. Adams has talked before of his songs existing and being birthed within the moment, as though they simply existed on some other plane and were simply waiting for the right person to come along to act as a vessel for their transition from the ephemeral to the tangible. Perhaps what makes Adams’ work so resonant is this ability to tap into the universal unconscious from which we pull our emotional connections with the world around us; there is nothing revelatory in his lyrical themes, yet the way in which he presents the seemingly mundane proves highly affecting.

Blistering lead single (and opening track) “Do You Still Love Me” lays bare the overarching thematic elements of Prisoner. While Adams himself has made reference to the title reflecting one’s being a prisoner to time, it would seem more that Adams himself is a prisoner to his own heartbreak – somewhat ironic given the title of his solo debut. Depending on your tolerance for breakup albums, Prisoner will either be the necessary emotional catharsis required to get you through the bitterness of emotional heartache or yet another maudlin exercise in tiring self-indulgence and navel-gazing. Song titles like “To Be Without You,” “Broken Anyway,” “Anything I Say to You Now” and “We Disappear” offer the illusion of enough self-pity to turn anyway those not familiar with Adams’ very specific aesthetic.

Fortunately for Adams, the majority of those coming to his work in general will be in the former category and thus know exactly what they will be getting themselves into. In this, Prisoner provides exactly what fans have come to expect of Adams’ workmanlike approach to song craft, one that has shown a staggering level of overall quality for someone as prolific as Adams has long been. Indeed, there is nary a weak track to be found on Prisoner, which offers a solid listen from top to bottom, making it clear that perhaps a little more time between releases might be a good thing in terms of Adams’ lack of self-editing.

For everyone else, Prisoner will likely play as a pleasant enough set of vaguely MOR/’80s singer-songwriter-style emotional paeans. Given the dissolution of his marriage to former pop tart Mandy Moore, Adams is ripe for emotionally-charged introspection. Like Beck before him, whose 2002 break-up fueled album Sea Change could be seen as something of a spiritual predecessor, Adams wears his broken heart prominently and unapologetically on his tattered flannel sleeves. Yet where Beck’s detour into emotionally nuanced territory was a surprisingly mature stylistic departure, Adams’ own move functions essentially as more of the same. Of course “the same” is often of such high quality and effortlessness that it’s easy to forget just how hard it can and should be to write so accessibly, proficiently and prolifically. Prisoner is no exception to this now firmly-established rule, each song one a lesser artist would kill to have but one of on an album.

Nearly every song here smacks of the familiar, be it in the lyrical tropes Adams finds himself relying on time and again or the easy melodicism he applies to each of these dozen tracks. With producer Don Was behind the boards, Prisoner rightly carries with it a sheen reminiscent of the ‘80s artists and aesthetics Adams is clearly aping. “Haunted House,” “Outbound Train” (with echoes of both Bruce Springsteen and an uptempo 10cc doing “I’m Not In Love”) and “Doomsday” could just as easily have come from Don Henley circa-“Boys of Summer” or Joshua Tree-era U2. In other words, he deftly manages a timelessness here that, coupled with the universally applicable thematic material, comes across as instantly familiar and not beholden to any one era of popular music over another.

I miss your loving touch, I miss your embrace/ But if I wait here any longer I’m gonna fade away,” he sings on “Shiver and Shake” over atmospheric synths reminiscent of Springsteen’s “Fire.” It’s but one of many allusions to his influences and emotionally damaged forbearers. Because of this approach, Prisoner feels, from the very first listen, like an album that has been with us for decades. There’s nothing remarkable or career-defining, just more of the highly satisfying same, this time delivered with a level of vulnerability that helps emphasize Adams’ previously lacking humanistic qualities. More so now than ever, the emotional sentiments on display feel the product of genuine heartache and loss rather than someone working to playing a prescribed role. Coming just three days after Valentine’s Day, Prisoner offers a note-perfect salve to those broken hearts facing yet another lonely night in the dead of winter.

    • Label:
      Bluenote
    • Release Date:
      February 17, 2017

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