There are few artists with as prolific or varied an output as Ryan Adams. Admirably he tends to release what he wants when he wants, literally. In 2015 he covered Taylor Swift’s 1989 album track by track. He famously duped his record company by releasing the underwhelming album Rock N Roll after they had rejected Love Is Hell. Rock N Roll was met with derision and accusations that it was derivative, aping several different classic rock songs. When Love Is Hell was eventually released it was hailed as a masterpiece. One nil Ryan. Ever since he’s been left to it, but he’s never had the same backing he enjoyed in the early 2000’s either.
Adams is generally viewed as an alt-country singer-songwriter but his first love was heavy metal. Black Sabbath were one of his favourites, generally it’s not an influence that’s clearly audible in his music but on Prisoner there certainly more of a stadium rock feel. Opener ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ is punctuated by big open chords and fat drums on a bed of synths complete with obligatory spikey, face-melting solo. Adams’ song writing quality always comes through on his records even if sometimes the way he packages those songs in the studio fluctuates.
Title track ‘Prisoner’ is a perfect example on the kind of sweet, love-struck mid-paced ballad he throws off with ease but there’s a sense on this as well as other tracks that it hasn’t quite been given the attention it deserves during the recording process. It feels as if a certain sound, big drums, clean guitars has been agreed on before recording and employed throughout. So, while there are some excellent songs on the record, overall it lacks the kind of texture it possibly could have had otherwise.
Prisoner is a break-up record, no bad thing look at Blood On The Tracks or Tunnel Of Love, but it does mean that thematically there’s little variation lyrically. It’s a record that very much details a specific part of Adams’ life and that’s just how it feels, as a snapshot of an emotionally delicacy it’s perfect. As a record it could do with a little more contrast.