Review of Prisoner Album by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams was eight in 1982. You can imagine him in his room, strumming his tennis racquet (not a euphemism) to "Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake, or shadow-boxing to "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor, especially when you hear the opening track to his 2017 album, "Prisoner", 'Do You Still Love Me?' It immediately smacks of over-ripe AOR cheese from a bygone era of Donkey Kong and Dallas. It's unashamed rock schtick, replete with Jack Black "School of Rock" guitar solo. Stylistically, it's an odd false start to the album, which is quieter and more contemplative. Thematically, it's a statement of intent, Adams heaving his battered, sorry bones through the no-man's-land of post-break-up bleakness.

Ryan Adams Prisoner Album

The dissolution of his marriage in 2014 was something he summarised as 'just a f**king horrible thing'. Whether that devastation and shock made him directly want to cover an entire Taylor Swift album, heaven only knows, but alongside that, he gradually worked his way towards producing "Prisoner". In the pipeline since 2015 and originally a potential double album, the eventual product, twelve tracks, feels like a much more reined-in emotional exorcism and a reflection of the built-in obsolescence of love. It's also an aurally satisfying, perfectly-arranged Smiths/Springsteen homage, or a well-executed confessional Adams exercise in maudlin alt-country and calculated soft-rock pastiche, depending on your wont.

"Doomsday" and "Haunted House" both feature plaintive harmonica and vocals like 'The Boss', albeit a boss who's received at least one formal warning from HR ('How can you complicate a kiss?') "Haunted House" is clearly possessed by the spectre of failed love, pointing us towards 'cracks in the window, spiders in the hall', like Martin Roberts in a "Homes Under the Hammer Emo Special". "Shiver and Shake" has a repetitive, breathless quality, with ethereal synth and echo-chamber, acoustic guitar strums creating a woozy, out-of-body lovesickness.

Adams positions himself squarely in front of the Salford Lads' Club with the Marr guitars and Rourke basslines of "Anything I Say To You Now" and title track, "Prisoner," the latter reproducing the reverberating jangle of 1984's "Reel Around The Fountain". The stoical resignation Glen Campbell/Neil Young elegy, "To Be Without You" shows Adams emerging careworn, 'like a book, and every page is so torn'. Precarious emotions fight for balance in "Tightrope" awkwardly layering a sax solo over a ghostly piano line and a stern timpani. The album ends with "We Disappear", concluding bleakly through swirling guitar disorientation and haunted laughter.

"Prisoner" is an 80s "Ashes to Ashes" Audi Quattro or "Minder" Ford Capri of an album - solid, reliable, plenty of grunt in the engine, with ample room to transport life's substantial baggage.