Ryan Adams Is Brilliant on Heartbreak Album, ‘Prisoner’
Rock singer/songwriter Ryan Adams assembles a fantastic heartbroken, post-divorce gem on his latest LP, ‘Prisoner.’
Rock singer/songwriter Ryan Adams experienced a resurgence upon the release of his Grammy-nominated self-titled album in 2014. Adams experienced some success once more the following year, covering Taylor Swift’s Grammy-winning album, 1989. Now after a couple of years off, and a divorce under his belt, he drops a formidable divorce album, Prisoner. Prisoner ranks among the elite albums released in 2017.
“Do You Still Love Me?”
“Do You Still Love Me?” opens mysteriously and exhibits sensitivity. The use of organ pad is prudent. That sensitivity is short lived, with guitar interjections intensifying the emotion. Eventually, those interjections develop into Ryan Adams’ familiar musical sound. The pacing and development of the record is superb. Adams begins his vocal performance tenderly. Like the progression of the song itself, he eventually embraces an assertive, gritty approach.
After the exceptional opener, title track “Prisoner” keeps the momentum afloat. From the jump, the lyrics and topic are accessible – highly relatable. Adams sings on the first verse:
“Free my heart / Somebody locked it up / Still waiting on parole / I can taste the freedom just outside that door…”
Essentially, on this straightforward rock-pop record, he touches on the power of love – sheer infatuation. He sums up these feelings on the simple, yet memorable refrain:
“I know our love is wrong / I am a criminal / Mmm, I am a prisoner / Mmm, I am a prisoner / For your love.”
Well produced, “Prisoner” embodies the spirit of rock and singer/songwriter. The dash of harmonica is like the cherry on top.
“Doomsday” helps Prisoner retain its hot status. The harmonica rears its head once more, this time at the top of the record. Love continues to encompass the rocker. Adams is more enthused about the relationship than his lover, who is clearly drifting – or unimpressed. “Can you stand and face your fears, my love?” he asks on the second verse. Later, he confirms his dedication, adding, “I could stand in just one place, my love / And never move.”
Adams’ loneliness comes to head on “Haunted House,” a magnificent record that edges “Doomsday” in greatness. In tune with the prevalence of love that encompasses prisoner, “Haunted House” expands the script slightly, extending his loneliness to dwindling friends. He also wants “her,” but is slightly less specific on this song. On the first verse he states, “It’s the last house at the end of the block / My friends all disappear one by one.”
“Silver and Shake”
“I pick up my phone and I shiver and I shake.” On “Shiver and Shake,” a broken relationship – presumably his divorce – has Adams on edge. He struggles to move beyond her “loving touch” and her “embrace.” By the end, he comes to an important realization:
“But if I wait here any longer I’m gonna fade away.”
The brokenness and emptiness continues on “To Be Without You,” where Adams ends each verse with the lyric, “Nothing really matters anymore.” Once more, he depicts the rollercoaster ride of divorce – losing someone you love or once loved. He’s bitter on “Anything I Say to You Now,” where he characterizes his words as pointless – nothing but meaningless trash. The one thing he can’t say is goodbye, which has been the case all album.
“Breakdown” continues the pleasant, easy-going nature of Prisoner. It’s emotional, but impressively, Adams continues to eschew ornate language in favor of simplicity. Would a few more poetic words amplify the intensity? Perhaps, but we get it. We feel you Ryan.
The rhythmic acoustic guitar sets “Outbound Train” off to a hot start. Add a sense of helplessness lyrically, and Adams exceptionally erects his delicate state.
“How am I supposed to know / When it’s time to go / In the middle of the night / When I’m all alone?”
Essentially, everything has come crashing down given the end of them. He’s completely unsure of what-to-do and where-to-go next.
“The cars don’t move in the middle of the night / Lost inside the void of the fading tail lights / I swear I wasn’t lonely when I met you, girl.”
On “Broken Anyway,” there seems to be a shift in perspective. Adams is still perturbed, but he seems to acknowledge the flaws of the relationship. The edge is legit on penultimate record “Tightrope,” where Adams’ vocals sound particularly expressive, flawed, and authentic. No, this isn’t a pitch perfect performance, but the emotional investment is impressive. The saxophone solo doesn’t hurt either, seemingly out of nowhere. Questions about his state of mind continue to dominate on the reflective “We Disappear,” where Adams still hasn’t quite found peace.
Ultimately, Ryan Adams delivers a fantastic album with Prisoner. He authentically captures the feelings of uncertainty, regret, and loneliness following a break-up – in his case divorce. The simplicity of the lyrics make Prisoner relatable to everybody, not just his own situation.
Gems: “Would You Still Love Me?”, “Prisoner,” “Doomsday,” “Haunted House” & “Outbound Train”