Ryan Adams – Prisoner review

Secret Meeting score: 79

by Phil Scarisbrick

The ‘break-up’ album has become something of a genre of its own. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds The Boatman’s Call and Joni Mitchell’s Blue are all linked by an emotional undertone that tries to deal with the despair, loneliness and even anger of a break-up. In recent years we’ve seen new voices add their own experiences to this tradition with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreaks and The Mountain Goats’ underrated Get Lonely. Ryan Adams has also delved into this subject previously with his wonderful debut album Heartbreaker, and this year returned to the subject following the demise of his marriage to singer and actress Mandy Moore.

Prisoner follows on from where Adams’ previous eponymous LP left off. Whereas that album was trying to wrestle with the notion of trying to salvage a dying relationship, Prisoner deals with the aftermath of that relationship’s expiration. What we get is the juxtaposition of a man at his most vulnerable, exposing his own weaknesses and fears, layered over a lush, guitar-driven stadium rock soundtrack. Where subject matter may recall Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, the sound is more in the realm of Bruce’s previous record Born in the USA. From the ragged and brash jaunt of lead single Do You Still Love Me?, through the emotional strain of Breakdown to the acoustic and sax driven melancholy of Tightrope, Adams bares his soul for our enjoyment. One can only imagine that for him this is catharsis in the only way he knows how.

Ryan Adams has always been an artist that has largely gone under the radar of the mainstream for much of his career, but commands an army of loyal and obsessive fans. Through 16 studio albums, these fans have been on a journey with him through drug addiction, love, loss and illness. This album is just the next chapter in that story and not only does it deliver for long-time fans, but will no doubt add new ones too.