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Ryan Adams, ‘Prisoner': Album Review

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If any fans were worried about Ryan Adams and his broken heart following his divorce with Mandy Moore, they won’t find much peace after listening to Prisoner. From the opening track and lead single, “Do You Still Love Me?,” Adams sets the stage for an album full of heartbreak and confusion, frustration and uncertainty—and plenty of questions, with the first being, quite simply, “Do you still love me?”

Though he may never get a clear answer to that question and others, Prisoner is far from a hopeless album. Sure, on a song like “Shiver and Shake,” he sings the tearjerking lyrics, “I miss you so much, I shiver and I shake / I’ve been waiting here like a dog at the door / You used to throw me scraps / You don’t do it anymore,” but then on “Doomsday” he stands up and admits, “My love, we can do better than this / My love, how can you complicate a kiss.” Somehow, in the midst of such significantly personal and affecting lyrics, Adams manages to display a type of confidence one can only find after picking up the remains of a destroyed heart and shaking it off.

Listen to Ryan Adams’ “Doomsday”

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Beyond the heartache, though, Prisoner is soaked in reverb and chorus, radiating the best of the ’80s at nearly every turn. Fans and critics alike are quick to point out the undeniable comparisons of Adams’ vocals and the record’s production to the likes of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, and nowhere is that more obvious than on “Haunted House” and “We Disappear.” When either track starts, close your eyes and you’ll swear you’re listening to a never-before-heard Springsteen 7-inch, not a new track from one of the most prolific alt-country singer-songwriters of the 21st century.

This ’80s-drenched sound shouldn’t come as much of a shock to fans of Adams; from a production perspective, Prisoner will soon be viewed as a companion piece and ultimately, a fulfillment, to his 2014 self-titled album. In fact, as far as Adams is concerned, he’s finally perfected the sound for which he’s long been looking (and he’s even captured it on a new guitar pedal).

Throughout the new disc, Adams is at his best and his most brutally honest. Though he may not always find answers to the questions he asks, he manages to dust off his heart, toss it on his sleeve, and continue playing the part of a prisoner in love. Whether fans are drawn to Prisoner because of the pristine sound or the wide-open, unobstructed look inside the singer’s heart—or both—they’ll be greeted with a quintessential Ryan Adams record from start to finish.

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