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.
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.