Ryan Adams: Prisoner

Score: 6/10 – The Heartbreak Kid.
Never one to hide his emotions away, Ryan Adams has staked a good deal of his career on writing albums about how bad he is at relationships. Forever the lonely figure – eyes obscured by goth-ish mop of hair, chuffing on a heartbreak ciggie – Adams certainly knows how to turn them feelings into some winning tunes.
Perhaps his best-known breakup album – 1996’s “Heartbreaker” – set the mold, using what was then called Alt. Country as the vehicle. A genre such as this gave the songs great weight thanks to the long tradition of ‘lost highway’ records and the romantic ideals of the American south. Recently, though, Adams has been settling into more of a rock kinda soundtrack, drawing upon such influences as The Smiths, Tom Petty and Springsteen. Self-titled predecessor – 2014’s “Ryan Adams” – showed that the prolific songwriter was happy to move away from the folky country feel; he reportedly recorded a whole album of it only to bin it off and rewrite the whole thing with the rock vibe instead. His song-for-song cover of Taylor Swift’s “1989” (despite a few country bangers) had a similar feel – stabbing power chords and an odd air of 80s pomp.
“Prisoner” picks up with more of the same, generally guitar-driven heartland rock, inspired by his recent divorce to actress Mandy Moore. “Do You Still Love Me”, “Anything I Say To You Now” take it the furthest, with the full band treatment and plenty of theatricals. Once again though, where he does best is when he winds it back to the singer-songwriter ambiance like on the lovely “To Be Without You” or harmonica ballad “Doomsday”; a track that has echoes of 2001 “Gold” standout “Firecracker”, and “Cold Roses” single “Dance All Night”. However, for now I guess the rock stylings win out.
One thing that is still there in spades is Adams’ songcraft – beautifully timely chord progressions and the ability to come off as irony free, despite lyrics like; “Free my heart/Somebody locked it up/Still waiting on parole/I can taste the freedom just outside that door” on the title track. Poor guy deserves a break, maybe his next Mrs will be ‘the one’ and he can retire happy, but my guess is Ryan Adams doesn’t really work that way, and will continue to mine the sadness of when things just don’t quite work out.
Dan Ashcroft
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