Heartbreak seems to be in Ryan Adams’ nature. The compounding sorrow peaked during his Love Is Hell album, so much that his record label had to initially reject it to prevent the alienation of his endearing fans. The fact that his audience paid scrupulous attention to an outpour of utter despondency exemplified that his deeply personal music could heal a broken heart in moments of loneliness and anguish.
Prisoner is another album documenting his heartache. It contrasts the desolate tone of Love Is Hell; it’s more like Adams composing Taylor Swift’s 1989 album in the first place, even though many of his fans speculated that it was his attempt to emulate a break-up album and mould it into his own.
If there’s one thing that Prisoner exhibits, it is that Adams’ heart mends quicker nowadays. His loss of love might have been melancholic on Heartbreaker and agonising on Love Is Hell, but any criticism of his ever-lasting depression as a musician is dashed with Prisoner’s buoyancy. The album is stylistically comparable to Brian Fallon’s debut solo album, Painkillers, but also channels Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, only if The Boss ever eventually released the full-band version that is padlocked in the vaults forever.
There’s moments on Prisoner where his influences really shine through. Album highlight ‘To Be Without You’ sounds as if it would come from Neil Young’s debut album and his admiration for power ballads seems prevalent in many tracks, as well as ‘Haunted House’ having a strange correlation to Sonny and Cher.
Ryan Adams’ fresh, unabridged sound, experimenting with an expansive assortment of new sounds from the constant developments of his gigantic pedal board, is secondary on Prisoner. While the music sounds more life-affirming, the lyrics are refined and Adams doesn’t exactly conceal his feelings. “Why can’t I feel your love? My heart must be blind,” spills Adams in ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ and asks “How can you complicate a kiss?” in ‘Doomsday’. He’s full of questions, but ultimately the answer he has to accept is that he’s a prisoner.
7 out of 10