Ryan Adams' 'Prisoner' isn't unique, but it works
With an impressive repertoire of work, including the infamous alternative cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989, 15 solo albums and a stint as member of alternative country band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams is perhaps one of the most overlooked solo artists of 2017.
Following his 2016 divorce from “This Is Us” actress Mandy Moore, Adams released a statement saying he had over 80 songs influenced by his divorce, ultimately selecting 12 tracks to comprise Prisoner.
Influenced by folk, country and rock, Adams brings the best elements of each to his work. The harmonica unique to folk, the twang that nods to country and the grit that is rock intertwine in each track, making his music both stylistically distinct and coherent.
But while his music is enjoyable and the album is emotionally felt, Adams ultimately falls prey to what most singer-songwriters are victim to: redundancy.
Although each isolated track is lyrically and instrumentally superior to most music that infiltrates the mainstream, when pieced together and listened to as a whole, it becomes hard to notice what precisely is that great about it.
Three songs are undoubtedly great whether listened to stand-alone or on the album as a whole; the two opening tracks, “Do You Still Love Me?” and “Prisoner,” as well as one of the final songs, “Broken Away.”
“Do You Still Love Me?” opens with an ethereal organ solo and is abruptly stabbed with an 80s-esque guitar riff. Adams comes in with raw, gritty, angry vocals, beautifully juxtaposing the demure organ moment with sudden passion — perhaps a metaphor for his failed relationship with Moore. The unique vocals and instrumentation are met with equally as realized lyrics: “Another year will pass / I will count the days / Another sun goes down / And I'll never see the rays / What can I say? / I didn't want it to change / Is my heart blind and our love so strange? / Do you still love me, babe?”
Moving into the title track, “Prisoner,” Adams takes a less angry and passionate approach in favor of slowing down the tempo, utilizing softer lyrics and vocals to convey his message of lost love. Similarly, “Broken Away” begins instrumentally stripped, showcasing Adams’ lyrics and quiet vocals, gradually building with increased instrumentation and a more powerful sound on his end. Despite the blending of each track, Prisoner remains an enjoyable listen. It paints vignettes of love and loss, marriage and divorce and the trials and tribulations of moving on. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in finding the perfect album with songs unlike any other, but at the end of the day, it’s more than that. This album is about a man telling his side of heartbreak — whether or not each track is Grammy-worthy is almost irrelevant — what’s relevant is the lyrics; the sound is just extra.
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