This week's feature album comes from a man who, for the sake of one letter, has almost certainly spent a significant portion of his seventeen years in the music industry explaining that he is not a middle of the road, radio-friendly soft rock peddler from Canada. Thankfully, this inconvenience has not deterred him from releasing fifteen solo studio albums. Prisoner, his sixteenth, is his first in two years.
Heartbreaker, Adams' debut solo album, still holds up very well under scrutiny despite the 17 years that have passed since its release. It is tender, brave and touching – drawing heavily from country influences but slapped in the face by a wet fish of rock that highlights the versatility of Adams' voice. The combination of To Be Young, My Winding Wheel, Oh My Sweet Carolina and Come Pick Me Up is irresistible to me and the album remains one of my all time favourites. As with many early albums, it dips into young love, idealism, the romance of irresponsibility.
Prisoner sees Adams shed the cap of heart breaker and don the beanie and sweat pants of heart broken. Not long ago, I wrote a piece about Graceland by Paul Simon for our Rolling Stone Top 500 section. That album was written following Simon's divorce to the marvellous Carrie Fisher. In it, Simon explores the theme of rebirth following a relationship ending and how it is an opportunity to reflect on the past whilst looking to the future. In 2015, Ryan Adams ended his marriage to actress Mandy Moore (notice the lack of marvellous) and this album is his first opportunity to put those events beneath the microscope. Prisoner takes a slightly different tack to Graceland, however, when discussing the dissolution of their union.
Every song is tinged with tragedy and the inescapable pitter patter of words unsaid. Adams even manages to find gloom in a power ballad with opening song and lead single Do You Still Love Me? - a track that feels so out of kilter with Adams' usual sound. Prisoner and Haunted House both touch upon the drag of memories – how the tapestry weaved in a relationship can never be fully unpicked. Doomsday takes a jibe at marriage with Adams maintaining that he was prepared to never change whilst belittling the promises of the person who said they would love him 'til Doomsday comes'. Anything I Say To You Now charts Adams' attempts to talk the situation over before ultimately giving it up as a pointless endeavour. I think it is fair to say the album certainly lacks a little something in the whimsy department.
I always feel in safe hands when I enter the realm of Ryan Adams. Part raconteur, part beat poet, part 'cut me open and see me bleed' musical powerhouse. He is the closest that we come in society today to a Ginsberg or a Kerouac – an uncompromising visionary that predates all the hipsters twitching on seat edges to seal his deification. This does not, however, feel like the Ryan Adams that I have come to admire. Gone is the passionate balladeer – replaced by a soulless husk intent only on introspective flagellation and what might have beens. His voice is still as exceptional as it has always been but his songwriting and musical sagacity appear to have descended to almost lowest common denominator levels. We have gone from an artist who once told me to that if a tree falls, I should 'go over and whittle out a wishing box' to the unsubtle assertion of 'feel like I'm headed for a breakdown'.
Don't get me wrong – if you are currently experiencing sadness over the loss of a relationship, this album may just be the pain panacea that you have been pining for. It is an ideal wallowing companion. Adams' heartbreak is picture perfect – it is M & S heartbreak. You will feel understood in a way that you never have before as he tells you of finding loose strands of hair on pillows and staring longingly at his phone until the wee hours. You will no longer feel alone as he regales you of the hope he used to have of a reconciliation, now dashed – the dog at the door who is no longer fed scraps.
Without wanting to sound callous, I just couldn't get on board with it. I spent most of the album wishing someone would give him a good shake and tell him to pull himself together. I mean, did he see Swinging With The Finkels? In all seriousness, this album is the friend who has just split up with someone and rings you ten times a day to offload their self-indulgent misery before hanging up and proceeding to swallow a handful of polaroids and phone in a melancholia overdose. We've all been there and we all know it is a ballache.
It is reported that Ryan Adams wrote close to 80 songs in preparation for Prisoner. If these were the 12 deemed to be the wheat, I would hate to see the droop of the chaff. I can only hope that, in advance of his next album, someone takes Ryan Adams' music out to a strip club and gets it wasted before his limitless talents suffer the same fate.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Week
“Maybe tomorrow the sun will shine//But the moon is full and what's on my mind//Is like a bad commercial in the movie of my life”
No Moore any more
Heartbreaker to heartbroken
Mandy's maudlin mess
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