Album Review: Ryan Adams, Prisoner

The Ryan line is open

First things first – the lead single on Ryan Adams’ Prisoner, ‘Do You Still Love Me?’, is an AOR behemoth in the Journey/REO Speedwagon tradition. You’ll be drumming the steering wheel, and offering a roared prayer to St Vinny the Fabulous, up on sacred Mt. USA. It is bloody marvellous.

Apart from that opener, which in and of itself is highly unlikely to be mistaken for ‘Everything Is Awesome’, the mood is dark. The break-up of Adams’ marriage to Mandy Moore hangs heavy, as a cursory glance at the song titles will tell you: ‘Doomsday’, ‘Haunted House’, ‘Breakdown’, ‘Head In Oven Time’ (I made one of them up).

“Great!” I hear you say. “Ryan is back to his miserable Heartbreaker best, right?” Well, no, not quite. Prisoner is a fine record, but it’s perhaps closer in spirit to 2004’s Love Is Hell. The sound channels Johnny Marr channelling James Honeyman-Scott, leaving us in little doubt as to who got the guitar pedals in the divorce. There are mournful, Springsteen-style harmonica stabs, and even an E-Street sax break at one point – a first for Adams as far as I know.

In other places, the singer sounds a bit like Tom Petty’s cranky younger brother, and I mean that in a good way.  He’s long since abandoned the new Gram Parsons hat that made me fall in love with him back in Whiskeytown, but no matter. He writes songs that lodge in the skull, and there are twelve good examples here. 

Ryan Adams, "Do You Still Love Me?"

 

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