For the past 20 years, Ryan Adams has been the poet laureate of unadulterated heartbreak, a master chronicler of the endless shapes and colors of romantic pain. So there’s naturally been an undue degree of curiosity surrounding the singer’s first record following his 2016 divorce from actress Mandy Moore; Indeed, there’s no easier setup than a Ryan Adams “divorce record.”
Anyone unfairly expecting anything more salacious than another rock-solid collection of open-hearted statements from Adams may be disappointed in Prisoner. Despite his recent personal tumult, Adams’ latest is not at all an unexpected turn for the 42 year-old singer-songwriter. Indeed, the album continues in the same vein Adams has been working in since his full-band reinvention that began three years ago with his 2014 self-titled album.
Since then, Adams has been mining the ’80s radio rock of his youth as a deep well of inspiration, compiling Don Henley guitar tones, classic Smiths-era reverb, arena-rock drum sounds and Born in the U.S.A. synth atmospherics into a finely-tuned, immaculate sonic palette that he’s managed to rightfully call his own.
Prisoner is no exception. “Do You Still Love Me” and “Anything I Say To You Know” are stomping muscle rock that recall 2014’s “Gimme Something Good,” while gorgeous mid-tempo laments like “Doomsday” and “Haunted House” sound, both lyrically and sonically, like outtakes from his 1989 Taylor Swift covers album. Unsurprisingly, the most emotionally resonant moments on the album come from its sparsest, most vulnerable offerings such as “Shiver and Shake” and “Outbound Train.”
Prisoner doesn’t differ enough from its recent predecessors to stand out as a singular mid-career achievement for the ever-prolific songwriter, but it’s one of Adams’ most fully-realized, sturdy collections to date, and quite possibly his finest record of the past decade.
“Shiver and Shake”
The most nakedly emotional song on Prisoner is a deep dive into the psychological wreckage following a bad breakup. “Close my eyes, I see you with some guy,” Adams sings. “Laughing like you never even knew I was alive.”
The anxious cadence, deft lyrical tricks and repetitive melodies on this heartbreaking relationship post-mortem are all straight out of Taylor Swift’s playbook, proving that his 1989 album was no goofy stunt.