Prisoner review by Ryan Adams

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Feb 17, 2017
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 7.4 (11 votes)
Ryan Adams: Prisoner
4

Sound — 7
Ryan Adams might have misjudged the pop culture trends of 2015 when it came down to his decision to record his own version of Taylor Swift's entire "1989" album, however when it comes down to at least the musical side of his sixteenth solo album "Prisoner" he delivers a full fledged nostalgia rich performance that draws inspiration from alternative rock and '80s AOR. "Prisoner" in many ways stands as Adams' most thorough sounding record since his breakthrough 2001 effort "Gold," mainly in that the album compiles a moderately diverse selection of songs that set certain emphasis behind broad melodies and emotional vocals.

The organ work that introduces the album on "Do You Still Love Me?" sets the sound that recalls bands like Europe and Whitesnake, while eventually moving into a solo which could have been cut by Joe Walsh. It's a hard hitting sound, but it's not one that sticks around much longer nor really appears anywhere else on the record. "Anything I Say to You Now" shows up around the halfway mark and even then it's more in the realm of new wave; the closing "We Disappear" is the only song that actually comes close with a kick drum-driven Springsteen style anthem. Instead, we find Adams settling primarily on a heartland rock vibe propelled by intricate acoustic and clean guitar; songs like the title track "Prisoner" and the moderately atmospheric "Doomsday" maintain a mid-tempo pace, taking away some of the opening song's energetic momentum to start directing the listener towards the more sentimental and intimate performances which start to surface later on.

YouTube preview picture


There's a lot of hurt that surfaces towards the beginning of the album's second half, especially around songs like "Outbound Train" and "Tightrope" that are almost showcases set primarily on vocals and acoustic. The ups and downs of this record are more than likely the result of Adams' split from actress Mandy Moore, which Adams has described as a "humiliating and just a horrible fucking thing to go through." It's especially apparent during songs like the previously noted "Tightrope" and "Haunted House," which begin to represent the album's darker side. Considering what was happening during the making of the album, it's not that difficult to see how "Prisoner" ends up being such a relatively diverse yet sonically rewarding effort.

Lyrics — 8
While the operatic and anthemic themes of "Do You Still Love Me?" may have given the wrong first impression as to the layout of Ryan Adams' latest record, it did give a strong insight into Adams' vocal range. We find Adams belting out some high notes and keeping a strong melody, however for most of the album it's a completely different tone. While the range is still there, "Prisoner" shows Adams delving further into his emotions and turning out the compelling Fleetwood Mac-esque sounds of "Outbound Train" and "Shiver and Shake," striking more of a sentimental tone without becoming an album that drags along in the pain.

Overall Impression — 7
Ryan Adams breaks back with his first album of original material since his 2014 self-titled release, and "Prisoner" is certainly an album that sets an impression much in the same way that the similarly somber "Love Is Hell" or "Heartbreaker" previously did for familiar listeners. The album is laced with emotion and nostalgia, retaining a sort of "breakup album" status while maintaining a positive energy throughout its multiple stylistic changes.

YouTube preview picture

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

    GR84
    I thought Ryan Adams' interpretation of 1989 was great, i listen to it all the time! This thing comes along shortly after and its GREAT as well, such a modern master of this style of music, and his delivery of the material has that way of coming across too easy, but the more you dig in to the arrangements and lyrics the more deep you discover it all actually is.
    Bleatch
    It could be only me but I really think Ryan Adams is underrated as a song-writer. Some of his Alt-Country acoustic music is stuff I aspire to write and sing.
    agentguerry
    I would rate this a 6.5 also. Listened to it a couple times, but nothing really sticks out as something I'm going to go back to. The powerful chords on the first song was really all I liked. Falls short of the previous self titled album. But hey, just my opinion.
    jean_genie
    I've been a Ryan Adams fan since Whiskeytown.  I've seen him in concert a couple times.  And I have to say that he's yet to record a bad album - very few people with as many records as him can claim that.  But he has done some forgettable stuff, and I think this is one of those albums. Prisoner is a good listen.  I like it.  But I'm pretty sure that a couple months from now I'll forget about it, and continue to grab Cold Roses off the shelf when I feel like listening to Adams. I'm with GR84 ... I thought his cover of 1989 was great, out of left field, and a lot more inspired than cutting new versions of his same songs.  It was also infinitely better than the original (aside from maybe Shake it Off, which was apples and oranges), and it is impressive as hell to hear one artist cut another's track and basically say "this is mine now."  That has a lot to do with why Johnny Cash's American recordings were so epic. As of this posting, users rated this record at 7.1.  I'd probably call it a 7.5, or maybe an 8.5 if I were drinking.  If you're an Adams fan, buy it and enjoy.  If you're not, this isn't the record that's going to convert you.  The guy wears his heart on his sleeve, which makes him less than predictable.  Buy Heartbreaker or 1989 if you want breakup music, or Cold Roses or Gold if you want a generally good record.  Rock and Roll is about 50% astounding too, especially if you're really pissed off at your significant other at the the time.  The others are worth adding to your collection, but they're not life-changing.  And let's be honest - five albums of that level is pretty damn impressive for anybody. It's super nerdy, but Adams' use of a common, stereotypical Hipster font on the cover of Prisoner really bothers me.  I feel like it emphasizes the fact that it's "Another Ryan Adams record", instead of a new record that breaks new ground  In that way, his talent and history is a liability; he's made so many excellent and memorable records, that a good one just sounds like shit in comparison.  I'm calling this a 7.5-8.5, but I freely admit that if this came from somebody else it could be a 5 or a 9.5. Not a 10.  Sorry Ryan ... I love you, and I'll be at your next show around here.  But this one isn't your best.  But I'm glad you made it, and I hope it helped.
    justaskfrank
    Album-oriented rock lined rock?
    Zerath
    Adult-oriented-rock (monotonous and uninspired rock musics for dads around the world)