Student Album Review: Ryan Adams’ Newest “Prisoner”

“These are the days, you need double what it takes,” writes Ryan Adams on the track “Shiver and Shake,” off his sixteenth studio album “Prisoner,” which was released last Friday. During the production of Prisoner, Adams was going through a divorce with actress Mandy Moore, his wife of six years. The split between the couple had a clear effect on Adams’ creative process, as the album focuses heavily on the topic of personal relationships, and offers the listener a glimpse into his personal life. So, in the spirit of Adam’s music, turn up your speakers and find yourself some liquor because we’re entering REAL SADBOY HOURS.
The album starts out strong with a ballad titled “Do You Still Love Me.” The song features highly dramatic vocals and a Jimmy Page-esque guitar solo. During the chorus, Adams asks, “Do you still love me babe?”, to which the answer is obviously no. However, this does not alter the fact that this is one of the sturdy tunes on the album. Adams does a great job capturing the essence of a 1980’s power ballad while still making it feel and sound relevant in 2017.
Songs like “Prisoner and “Doomsday” feature some ardent and perspicacious harmonica sections. Whoever played harmonica on these songs clearly spent some time in prison, because there’s no feasible way you could blow harp like that without having done at least five years in the state pen without parole.
One of my personal favorites is “Breakdown.” I really enjoyed the way the track intensifies as it progresses. It starts off simply with only an acoustic guitar and vocals but constructs itself into a wall of sound boasting swirling, flanged guitars and a powerful drum beat.
Where this album really shines is in its ability to sound very modern and present, while not relying too heavily on technology. The instrumentals come through clear and crisp, while not sounding contrived or overly produced. They provide an excellent backing for Adams’ resonant voice. Each track has a distinct reverb to it that contributes to the atmospheric and blue timbre of the album.
It’s no question that Ryan Adams can write a song. Although, after my first listen to the album I found myself struggling to differentiate between some of the songs. The unvarying production on certain tracks, such as “Outbound Train” and “We Disappear,” make portions of the album forgettable. However, the greatest shortcoming on this album is in its lack of flow.
The album starts out burning hot, but sort of fizzles out over its course with a few peaks here and there. It does not really progress with a sense of purpose, as the breaks between songs make it feel choppy. Besides subject matter, there is not a lot that really ties the pieces together. That being said, there are some really outstanding works on the album. Adams definitely delivered. Prisoner as a cohesive composition is not quite his best work, and for that, we’re giving this one a 3.5/5

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