A fresh take on Ryan Adams’ album

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Courtesy of Drew de Fawkes
Courtesy of Drew de Fawkes

In the first new project since his cover of Taylor Swift’s “1989,” Ryan Adams reaches back in time. “Prisoner,” which released Feb. 17, also happens to be his first album since the end of his marriage – something that Adams isn’t afraid to explore and reflect on. Beginning with a hard-rocking ‘80s-sounding “Do You Still Love Me?” Adams delivers a 12 song diary, going back to his roots lyrically but infusing rock from past decades.

When discussing what his new album would sound like, Adams didn’t shy away from the idea that this would be an ‘80s rock album: “When I run, I listen to an iPod that I have … I’ll listen to the best of stuff from the ‘80s: Springsteen or Hornsby and I’ll listen to what is going on there. I was listening to AC/DC’s Fly on the Wall and that’s when I realized what I had to do for the record.”

It certainly has all the elements, with hard hitting electric songs like the first track, but also plenty of easy-drumming acoustics as well. Just a few months ago, Adams was trying to cut down a list of 80 songs to ten. “Prisoner” had no shortage of music, as Adams eventually settled on 12, but that really means every song is meant to be there. There’s no fillers or slow spots.

Instead, one after another, each songs tells another story and brings you deeper into Adams world, which at times is sad and often nostalgic. “Haunted House” and “Shiver and Shake” have a dark sounding acoustic guitar, backed by Adams’ strained voice. They both give off the same feeling, sad yet meaningful – Adams tells two different stories, but together they make up the bigger picture of “Prisoner.” Yes, it’s a break-up album with depressing elements, but it’s also nostalgic and it looks ahead too. While in “Shiver and Shake” he talks about missing someone, he turns around and says “I can’t live in this haunted house anymore,” as if confronting himself and saying it’s time to move on.

The second track, also titled “Prisoner,” has a uplifting, summer-sounding guitar rift, but sings a different song: “Free my heart/ Somebody locked it up … I am a prisoner/ For your love.” Unlike much of the album that follows – with its minor chords and Springsteen-esque voice – “Prisoner” seems to have an optimistic sound perspective.

It sounds like The Smiths “Girlfriend in a Coma,” a perfectly happy-sounding song with lyrics completely the opposite.Adams is a versatile artist – he plays several genres with ease and his voice fits in just about any. Despite his commitment to acoustic and western-rock, he seems at his most comfortable and honest on “Prisoner.” In combining even the least bit of emotion with the abundance of talent he has can create a great album. He doesn’t shy away from his heartbreak, instead hitting it head on from all different angles.

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