1 March 2017
Ryan Adams - Prisoner
Outside of Waheela, Iron Maiden, Ben Folds (with or without the Five), Ginger Wildheart and (surprisingly) Blur, Ryan Adams is one of those artists who we have reviewed quote a lot on these pages. On the radio show I do on a Monday night, when I arrive in the studio I slip 'Gimme Something Good' on the station list before the show, just so people know I have arrived and it is almost time for my show. I have listened to so much music by this man that is it starting to become a slight obsession, so when I found out that the follow up to '1989' (our review cleverly linked here) was on it's way, then I was more than a little excited. As '1989' was a way for Ryan Adams to deal with the collapse of his marriage, then this is probably going to be a reflection of the man during the months that followed; so, let us find out what this is all about....
01 – Do You Still Love Me?
Starting with an organ and Ryan Adams singing his pain with that level of emotion that has become his main signature, the guitars come crashing in with a mixture of rock to the Alternative Country and the emotional torrent that flows is up there with his best work. Since it was released in December last year, it has been on heavy rotation as it has everything that you want from a Ryan Adams song - drama, a plea for love, a classic hook and the feeling that the resolution to this song is later in the album; an instant classic.
02 – Prisoner
A song about being feeling trapped in a loveless cell of emotion, this ballad (which is Mr Adams' main bag) deals with the dark days of emotion heartbreak and the desire for freedom, mixed with the realisation that you are still locked into the relationship. It is a beautiful piece, one that does not reach for the same emotional heights as 'Do You Still Love Me?', but still holds its own on this album. One thing, it is a strange choice for the title track especially when you hear some of the other songs; maybe it just fitted the mood....
03 – Doomsday
Words said in passion can sometimes come back and bite you on your ass, as the love dies and the sentiment turns to lies for one or the other former lover. Sounding like this is preparing to take on new Alternative Country/Folk Rock such as The War on Drugs and Kurt Vile, this is a song which shows people how Mr. Adams created the genre and still rules it with an iron grip, a shit-storm of emotion and can pluck the very essensce of the situation and make it sound so good. It is a true high watermark on this album and another to add to the instant classic section of his discography.
04 – Haunted House
A song about the house at the end of the street, a house that is haunted by memories and the need to escape is echoed once more; yeah, this song is indirectly dealing with the break-up in the best way that Ryan Adams knows. There are similarities to the song 'This House Is Not For Sale' from the album 'Love Is Hell' (or the 'Love Is Hell EP Part 1'), the metaphor about the building are striking and it is another fantastic piece of music on this album.
05 – Shiver and Shake
Melancholy is a constant companion on this album, with 'Shiver and Shake' it is in the forefront of the album as the heartbreak is the pulse of the song and the regret is in every word. However, the fragility to the voice is lacking and it does not hold the emotional weight of other tracks on the album, it just seems to stick in the same gear and fades into nothing by the end of it - bit of a shame really.
06 – To Be Without You
This was the second song to be released as a single from this album, once more we are in a sea of loss and emotion; everything is broken,, numb and the times are hard. Unlike 'Shiver and Shake' before, 'To Be Without You' at least has more substance about it and does not loop on a droning accoustic part that does not go anywhere. There is a genlte power to this number that is hard to quantify and it jsut feels like velvet and can knock you still from a run, it is a powerful number to has an unassuming prescene.
07 – Anything I Say To You Now
This is not the happiest of album, but this song is a dark little number, even by the standards of this album. The music is sort of cheery, but so was the music of the Smiths and they are some of the darkest numbers in the world. This number follows in that great tradition of making miserable music that sounds wonderfully happy, it has a little playful riff, a clever drum beat and subtle vocals that are designed to drive that darkness into the light.
08 – Breakdown
Trying to articulate the feeling of despair from a break up is a hard thing to do at times, sometimes it could make a simple truth easier to deal with, even if that truth is painful. This is not the most complex song on the album, but it has that sort of hook that seems to come so effortlessly from Ryan Adams. It is simple, beautiful, painful and glorious.
09 – Outbound Train
The overriding impression I have from this some is the feeling like you are hitting stage left, not too sure what to do and how the absent of people can make things seem strange and weird. It is a faster paced song which grabs your attention from the aggressive strumming of the acoustic guitar on this one, it is a perfect foil to the slide guitar and those heart felt words. This is the dark horse of the album, quite possibly a sleeper hit for the next few years.
10 – Broken Anyway
Knowing that something is about to break and the actual ending of a relationship are two completely different things; sometimes it gives people an apathetic view of events and the union is doomed as no-one wants to address the issue (which will break things if focused upon). This short number is my song of the album, it is a beautiful song that shows how people can be scared into events that they are trying to avoid, it has a beautiful solo towards the end of the song and it is one of the songs that I wish was slightly longer.
11 – Tightrope
Just Ryan Adams and his acoustic guitar for the most part, this song is a song about desires, wants and lust. A saxophone joins in in sections, gentle clicking of fingers, piano in places, sparse percussion and a riff that has a tone of a slowed down version the Jam to it in places are used to bring the words to life. It is a good number, not a great one, but on an album that is incredibly consistent, it is not a bad thing to have a song that keeps everything heading in the right direction.
12 – We Disappear
Ending the album is ‘We Disappear’ and it is a song that guides you home after an emotional journey, it notes that people will one day leave each other’s lives. There is a resignation to the words, knowing that to make things work requires change and that is not forthcoming; some people are not capable of that sort of commitment, even when they know that it will take someone special on a course out of their world. It is a strong ending to the record, but not one that explodes as you might expect. During the ending solos you can hear laughter, not too sure if this is mocking or relief that it is almost over; either way it ends the record on a beautiful and high note.
At times, I find myself in awe of this album, misery can be a great catalyst at times and when the pain is hot and malleable, it is usually then that the creative type can use that resource and channel some of that emotive fuel and make the pain into flesh via music. It is a beautiful album, one that has a lot of similarities to 'Love Is Hell' with some fine song that deal with a dark period in the man's life. It does have a few moments which do not meet the high standards of songs such as 'Doomsday', 'Broken Anyway' or 'Breakdown', but the overall impression I have of this album is that misery can love company. As this is one side of the break-up, you are never too sure what you are getting, but the music is so good that it will help people if they are feeling the same. This is one of his best records, it will be a tough one to beat this year.
9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost....
Top track – Broken Anyway
You can purchase Prisoner on Amazon here.
You can visit the Pax-Am Records site which acts as Ryan Adams as his website.
You can follow the activities of Ryan Adams on Facebook here.
You can stream Prisoner on Spotify here.
You can stream Prisoner on Deezer here.
You can stream Prisoner on Tidal here.
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