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Ryan Adams: Prisoner

 A l b u m   D e t a i l s

Label: PAX AM Records
Released: 2017.02.17
Category: Rock, Alternative Country
Producer(s): Ryan Adams
Media type: CD
Web address: paxamrecords.com
Appears with:
Purchase date: 2017
Price in €: 1,00

 S o n g s ,   T r a c k s

[1] Do You Still Love Me? (R.Adams/D.Clarke) - 4:00
[2] Prisoner (R.Adams/M.Viola) - 3:12
[3] Doomsday (R.Adams) - 3:02
[4] Haunted House (R.Adams) - 2:42
[5] Shiver and Shake (R.Adams) - 3:05
[6] To Be Without You (R.Adams) - 3:22
[7] Anything I Say to You Now (R.Adams) - 4:51
[8] Breakdown (R.Adams) - 4:01
[9] Outbound Train (R.Adams) - 4:21
[10] Broken Anyway (R.Adams) - 2:57
[11] Tightrope (R.Adams) - 3:57
[12] We Disappear (R.Adams) - 3:30

 A r t i s t s ,   P e r s o n n e l

Ryan Adams - Guitar, Bass Guitar, Lead Vocals, Cover Painting, Photography, Producer

Johnny T. Yerington - Drums, Percussion
Charlie Stavish - Bass Guitar
Mike Viola - Guitar on [1]
Daniel Clarke - Organ on [1]
Jason Boesel - Drums on [1]
Joe Sublett - Saxophone on [11]

Beatriz Artola - Engineer, Mixing
Charlie Stavish - Engineer, Mixing
Phil Joy - Engineer
Rachel Jones - Assistant Engineer
Lee Foster - Assistant Engineer
Reuben Cohen - Mastering
Gavin Lurssen - Mastering
Andy West - Design
Noah Abrams - Photography
Scott Newton - Photography
Johnny T. Yerington - Photography

 C o m m e n t s ,   N o t e s

Picking up the thread left hanging from 2014's eponymous album - in retrospect, his 2015 cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 seems even more of a detour - Ryan Adams winds up diving ever deeper into early-'80s sounds and sensibilities on Prisoner. Such supple sounds are carefully constructed with producer Don Was, a professional who helps Adams articulate the AOR ideals he initially essayed in 2014. Prisoner sounds warm, open, and inviting, its welcoming vibes contradicting how it's an album born out of pain, a record written in the aftermath of Adams' divorce from Mandy Moore. Sadness haunts the corners of Prisoner - it's there in the very song titles, beginning with the opener "Do You Still Love Me" and running through its aching closer, "We Disappear" - but it's not a sorrowful record, not with its smooth edges and warm center. All of this is an outgrowth of the aesthetic Adams pioneered in 2014, one that he lent to Jenny Lewis' The Voyager, and the reconstituted soft rock suits him well: it’s a salute to the past and Adams always respected tradition. If the songs on Prisoner follow a conventional path of heartbreak - a man sorting through the remnants of a broken romance - the sound helps give the album an identity. Adams largely relies on cinematic classic rock tricks, a move underscored by how "Outbound Train" seems like an answer to Bruce Springsteen's "Downbound Train" - toward the end of the record he starts to thread in a few spare acoustic confessionals, songs that play like subdued nods to his Americana past - and that's the charm of Prisoner: it's not a record that wallows in hurt, it's an album that functions as balm for bad times.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine - All Music Guide

"It doesn't matter who I was married to," Ryan Adams says, on a January afternoon in Los Angeles. "People do not get married to fucking get divorced. There is a fail in it that cannot be described. Especially when neither person would ever have wanted to cause the harm that is, unfortunately, the side dish to that emotional dark meal."

Prisoner, Adams' 16th solo record, is also his first collection of original songs since his separation from actor and musician Mandy Moore in 2015. In the tumultuous years leading up to Prisoner, Adams had dealt with the death of the grandmother who'd helped raise him (his "G-Ma"); being diagnosed with the painful and disorienting inner-ear condition known as Meniere's Disease; and, finally, his divorce. Driven by raw, anthemic rock ballads like the arena-ready "Do You Still Love Me?," the propulsive "Outbound Train" and the quietly epic, harmonica=solo-laden "Doomsday," the album is a bittersweet exploration of how it feels for the 42-year-old Adams to be on his own again.

During his eight-year marriage, Adams had worked to keep the couple's private life private. But in his music, the hyper-prolific singer-songwriter has always thrived on oversharing. Since a debut solo album called Heartbreaker in 2000, the Jacksonville, North Carolina, native has released nearly an album a year, consistently returning to themes of loneliness, romantic disappointment and the impermanence of love. A childhood marred by instability led him to emancipate himself from his parents at age 17, and Adams takes pride in the self-reliance he developed at an early age. "I wasn't overqualified, having written sad songs, to go through that in my personal life," Adams says. "I see this beautiful and tragic world, and I do my best to describe it, because it's been crushing to me since I was a kid. It seems to be how I connect."

Ryan Adams, singer and guitarist, performs at the Paradiso on October 18th 2001 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Adams live in 2001. "I see this beautiful and tragic world, and I do my best to describe it," he says. Frans Schellekens/Getty
Work on Prisoner began in 2015, as touring for Adams' self-titled 2014 album was winding down. "I needed to get out of fucking L.A. for a minute, because I didn't really want to be here waiting for somebody to take my photo or for something to get weird," he says. Adams, who had lived in New York in the early 2000s and never lost his affinity for the city, rented a place on W. 9th Street, a block away from his old apartment, and two blocks from Electric Lady Studios, where he would record Prisoner. "I didn't edit. I let myself go free in my mind," he says, noting that sessions for the album yielded more than 80 songs. Adams played most of the parts himself, with the only consistent accompanist being his best friend and longtime drummer, Johnny T.

Adams found himself reinvestigating the things he loved in the music of AC/DC, Electric Light Orchestra and Bruce Hornsby. He says he'd realized while making Ryan Adams that the sad music he'd grown up loving wasn't always slow and wasn't always hopeless, and for Prisoner he wanted to focus on songs with forward momentum. "I wanted to go even further into writing simple lines, like Eighties Bruce Springsteen," he says. Adams describes going to a place in his mind where, he says: "I could hear the radio in that backroom at G-Ma's house. I could see the sunlight coming through the window, and I could hear [Springsteen's] 'Jungleland' playing. I could feel all those elements. And it felt good to be fragile and a little crushed."

"This record," he explains, "was not born of sadness, and I was not crying. I was elated. Very stoned. And very free in those moments. I could fall asleep at 10:30 watching Hill Street Blues. I might wake up at 1 a.m. and have a riff in my head. I go into the living room and my [Fender] Jazzmaster's sitting there and it's already plugged in. I play a little bit. Smoke a bowl. Go back upstairs. Fall asleep. I'm free! I'm flying with my muse. And I'm open for business. People call me and they want talk, they need to get something off their mind, I got all the time in the world for them. It's fucking great."

Jenny Eliscu - March 6, 2017
© Rolling Stone 2017

Ryan Adams gravely misread the pop culture climate of 2015 and his fan letter to Taylor Swift was incinerated on arrival by the hot takes. But at least 1989 was a reminder of a time when he was generating reactions that ran deeper than a respect for craft. For most of the past decade, Adams has made albums of almost oppressive competence: whether the songs from Ashes & Fire and Ryan Adams took five minutes or five years of soul-searching to create, they all come out sounding equally effortless. Purely in terms of its content, Adams’ new album, Prisoner, is more of the same, and how that sits will depend on whether you’ve heard the singles or read the press clippings. It’s another down-the-middle, crowd-pleasing Ryan Adams record at a time when that crowd was expecting him to bring the heat.

Still, as latter-day Ryan Adams albums go, there’s more buzz than usual around Prisoner, and rightfully so. The neural blasts of guitar misfiring all over “Do You Still Love Me?” and “Doomsday”’s pink-mist shimmer outline a convergence point where the heartland comfort food of Ryan Adams, the puckish punk whims of 1984, and the arena-rock aspirations of 1989 meet. Purely as sound, Prisoner unquestionably succeeds; though Reagan-era AOR is basically a primary color of modern pop at this point, Adams’ vocals and lyrical tics are so well established that any genre bends to his will. If the title track and “Anything I Say to You Now” aren’t career highlights, they’re at least ambitions fully realized—quintessential 2010s Ryan Adams, conveying a mis-remembered ’80s where Tunnel of Love and The Queen Is Dead are close neighbors on record shelves and equally revered documents of idealized longing.

Previews of Prisoner have not been shy about stating the obvious: this is Adams’ first album since separating from actress Mandy Moore, which he described as a “humiliating and just a fucking horrible thing to go through.” The context of the breakup is so central to how the album is being heard, news of the event might as well be slapped on a sticker on the cover. But though it lacks the intoxicating, top-of-the-world cockiness that powered Gold through its street-walkin’ low points, Prisoner is Adams’ most complete work since then—he’s not stuck in a single mode. The Deadheaded “To Be Without You” rambles on like Cold Roses, so that the line “nothing really matters anymore” registers like a cashed-bowl shrug, while, the chipper strum of “Haunted House” shows the dark side of the record’s offhandedness, coming very close to Hootie’s “Only Wanna Be With You.”

Adams is the first to joke about his stock phrases, and his self-awareness renders his most objectively miserable work tolerable—any mention of “rain” or "trains" in one of his songs, for example, has a meta quality, his version of a DJ tag. But hearing “Thorn in my side/Pain I can’t hide,” “Oh, my soul is/Black as coal,” or “Feel like I’m headed for a breakdown/Feel like I’m racing and I can’t come down” tossed around carelessly within the same song is enough to question where Adams’ appreciation of soft-rock schlock ends and appropriation begins. Prisoner is filled with lyrics like these, lines that feel like placeholders for universal truths or even personalized expressions of pain that rarely emerge. While it’s impossible to evaluate the album’s sincerity, inspiration is a more tangible quality, and Adams comes off like an A student uncharacteristically frozen by an essay prompt, filling the margins with the hopes that his reputation can get him out of this jam, this one time.

A generous reading of Prisoner can play it off as a commentary on the futility of “breakup albums” at a certain point in your life—that the hurt can feel as debilitating and devastating as it did in similar situations years ago, but the need to dramatize it just isn’t there anymore. In fact, as tell-alls have become the norm for public breakups between artists in recent years—ranging from Dirty Projectors to Dirty Sprite 2, from Tourist in This Town to, ahem, Taylor Swift—it can be a relief to hear something that doesn’t feel like an invasion of privacy for the party not present. But the emotional equanimity of Prisoner always feels unintentional, or worse, a byproduct of his unerring craft. While Prisoner clearly aspires to join Love Is Hell or 29 or Heartbreaker as another platonic ideal for a “sad Ryan Adams album,” it can't help but be “another Ryan Adams album.”

Rating: 6.1

Ian Cohen - February 15, 2017

Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours often gets credited as the first modern breakup album. That record’s artwork finds Ol’ Blue Eyes adrift in thought on an empty street corner, just outside the halo of a streetlamp, cigarette limp and sighing. It’s a portrait of the traditional idea of brooding masculine heartbreak. Five years later, Roy Orbison crooned that “Only the Lonely” could know the heartaches he’d been through since his baby left forever. Lonely hearts agreed and consoled the recording to the top of the charts on both sides of the pond. Since then, the breakup album has evolved while remaining a fixture in our record collections. We’ve heard couples crumble on record (Rumours), surrealist poets turn soberly plaintive (Blood on the Tracks), and battered hearts trudge off seeking solitude (For Emma, Forever Ago). Ryan Adams, of course, has already contributed to our canon of heartbreak with his solo debut, Heartbreaker, a country-tinged exhale that saw the young songwriter posed like Sinatra’s heir apparent: dazed, cigarette propped between his lips, hand cupped over his heart. As it turns out, heartbreak photographs about the same half a century later.

“Thanks, but I’m not gonna cover another album again,” Adams determined after releasing his take on Taylor Swift’s 1989 in 2015, citing potshots he had received from critics and fans who interpreted the project as a serious singer-songwriter slumming it in a ghetto of plastic pop. Perhaps, listeners were waiting for the celebrated songwriter to lament, pine, and bleed through their headphones as his marriage to Mandy Moore dissolved. But if they were waiting on a breakup album, another Heartbreaker, they wouldn’t get it. Or would they? “There’s just a joy to 1989,” Adams has explained, an indication that perhaps Ryan Adams the musician chose distraction rather than festering as he coped with the turmoil in his personal life. Maybe 1989 actually was the breakup album. And if so, who are we to discredit that? As universal as the experience of heartbreak may be, the heart bruises in as many distinct shades as an eye or any other injury we can’t bury deep down and conceal from the world. Prisoner, then, finds a recovering Adams a bit further down the tracks — out along the city limits and able to take in the entire skyline at once as opposed to standing downtown, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and immediacy of his surroundings. It’s from that perspective that Adams assembles a stunning scrapbook that captures heartbreak in an intimate array of snapshots, a collection that marks his most accomplished record since Heartbreaker.

Prisoner positions Adams in a comfortable pocket: one foot in a cowboy boot, a sneaker in Paul Westerberg’s garage, and enough quirky proclivities to prevent him from sounding like anyone but Ryan Adams. The opening guitar crunch on lead single “Do You Still Love Me?” could cue an ’80s training montage before it settles into a power ballad buoyed by swirling keys. Westerberg once had a dyslexic heart, but here Adams diagnoses himself as having a blind one, an impairment that he knows will keep him asking that titular question for years to come. This struggle against his own nature and hangups surfaces throughout the record. On the gorgeous, mid-tempo “Doomsday”, Adams can’t help but proclaim that he “could wait a thousand years” while at the same time admitting that he doesn’t know “how to let [his] feelings go.” To what extent is Adams both a prisoner and his own jailer (“Prisoner”), the man still residing in a house full of memories and the one who’s actually haunting it these days (“Haunted House”)? The heart has a remarkable knack for mending itself, but too often this patient just can’t stay out of his own way.

If one criticism of Adams holds merit, it’s that his records have a tendency to bloat. On Prisoner, not only does he refuse to let an incredibly tight album unravel and tangle, but his craft reflects a songwriter who understands how to make each line count and earn his indulgences. Songs like the teetering “Shiver and Shake” and cantering “To Be Without You” are perfect exercises in minimalism, eschewing choruses and emphasizing a plaintive, matter-of-fact delivery that puts the onus on Adams to unburden himself as succinctly as possible. On the former, the verses act like snapshots of Adams’ headspace, each exposing some insight into his circumstances before the the song softly fades out. The latter dances around the conclusion that all these reflections on the past, natural as they might be, are ultimately exhausting meditations on something that no longer exists (“Nothing left to say or really even wonder/ We are like a book and every page is so torn”). When Adams does allow himself flourishes, they’re the perfect touches: a whining harmonica on “Doomsday”; snaps, a sax solo, and piano outro on the previously spare “Tightrope”; or an intentionally clunky breakdown and shimmering denouement as “Anything I Say to You” speeds off toward oblivion. Nowhere do these adornments feel forced; never, not for a second, does Prisoner feel like it’s holding us against our wills.

“It’s nice to try and illuminate the more complicated stuff,” Adams recently told the BBC. “I feel like I’m leaving a map for people if they’re in a hard place.” And it’s the brutal honesty with which he charts his own course that will make Prisoner a guide, or at least a shoulder, to others. It’s not an album glorifying the great love that got away. It’s a wounded but mature record that understands things run their course, relationships end for a reason, and that there’s some sort of tomorrow waiting out there. “Outbound Train” looks back with skepticism, “Broken Anyway” spots the warts, and beautiful closer “We Disappear” gets down to all that’s really left to do: sort out “what’s the rubble/ And the parts I want to save.” Some might say that a predilection for sad songs made Ryan Adams a likely candidate to record the next great breakup album. That could be true, but the real story here is that one of our generation’s great songwriters was willing to dig through his own rubble and share whatever turned up — sad, hopeful, or otherwise.

Matt Melison - February 16, 2017
© 2007 Consequence of Sound

More so than his alt-country covers of zeitgeisty non- country albums or his arbitrary forays into arena rock and heavy metal wish- fulfilment, what Ryan Adams truly excels at is documenting and dissecting failed relationships. With ‘Prisoner’, the 42-year-old singer-songwriter is (conservatively speaking) on his third such album dedicated to doing just that, this time picking over the bones of his six-year marriage to actress Mandy Moore, which ended in 2015.

Fortunately – both for us and, in a more cathartic sense, Adams himself – the passage of time between this album and 2004’s ‘Love Is Hell’, or even his 2000 solo debut ‘Heartbreaker’, hasn’t dulled his gift for creating art out of pain. ‘Prisoner’ isn’t quite up to the career-best standards of its predecessors, but it’s a remarkably focused and effective successor nonetheless.

Opener ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ sets the tone, if not quite the sound, for much of what follows, with a disconsolate Adams pleading, “Is my heart blind and our love so strange?” over a backing track equidistant between Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ and The Eagles’ ‘Victim Of Love’. As ’80s power-ballad pastiches go, it’s expertly done, though the rest of the album takes its cues from more tasteful, less bombastic sources, namely ‘Tunnel Of Love’-era Bruce Springsteen (see the brilliant – and devastating – ‘Haunted House’) and Bruce Hornsby(the widescreen soft rock of ‘Anything I Say To You Now’).

Adams’ pen doesn’t hold back on the heartache – “I see you with some guy / Laughing like you never even knew I was alive” goes one pointed line on ‘Shiver And Shake’ – yet the overwhelming sentiment isn’t pettiness or acrimony, but an acceptance that some things are built to fall apart: as ‘To Be Without You’ eloquently puts it, “We are like a book and every page is so torn”. It’s a wisdom that comes from having been over this ground many times before, and while you wouldn’t wish it on him again, the worst sort of anguish brings out the best in him.

Rating: 4/5

Barry Nicolson - NME
© Copyright Time Inc. (UK) Ltd.

Prisoner is the sixteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Ryan Adams. It was released on February 17, 2017. The album is Adams' first album of original material since his 2014 album, Ryan Adams, and was preceded by the singles "Do You Still Love Me?", "To Be Without You", and "Doomsday". Prisoner received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album has an average score of 80 based on 29 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic rated the album four out of five stars, calls it "charming", and states, "it's not a record that wallows in hurt, it's an album that functions as balm for bad times." Writing for Slant Magazine, Jeremy Winograd rated the album four of five stars and states Prisoner is "one of Adams's most sonically artful albums to date." Prisoner debuted at number eight on the US Billboard 200 with 45,000 album-equivalent units, of which 42,000 were pure album sales.


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