Ryan Adams is a seasoned veteran when it comes to lighting up an intimate, 200 person capacity room, fine tuning each and every track he’s recorded in the studio, and most importantly being the outspoken, not-giving-a-fuck narcissistic artist that he is. But this post has nothing to do with Ryan’s personal attitudes or feelings, but has everything to do with how his latest album Prisoner, which contains some of the most honest, relatable and memorable hooks, musically and lyrically, throughout his entire catalog.
The first track, Do You Still Love Me, echoes the mood and pop sounding themes of Ryan Adams, his self titled album that precedes Prisoner. After a few listens, the title track of the album becomes a fan favorite and one of the more memorable songs on the track list. With a tender, honest, heartbroken tone, Ryan sings “I know our love is wrong, I am a criminal, mmm I am a prisoner.” It’s the subtle mmm’s that really encapsulate his soft, honest and expressive emotions. God damn it Mandy Moore. Divorce Ryan Adams and force him to write some of his most profound material.
The first truly memorable song on the album is Shiver And Shake. As soon as the dark, electric guitar progression begins, the listeners mind is automatically zoned in to Ryan’s dismal, never ending sleepless nights. “Midnight comin’ I can feel it in the air,” is the first line of the song and you can definitely hear midnight within the bold tones of his electric guitar, fine-tuned by Ryan’s new custom electric guitar pedal, the VCR. “I’ve been waiting here like a dog at the door,” is the last line of the last verse and is an example of Ryan pouring his soul out and battling the misery of divorce.
Ryan’s subtle whimpering and hollering, which is easy to hear on Breakdown, are perfect examples of dynamics that complete the attitude and emotion that Ryan is trying to convey. If you listen closely the lingering vocal levels after he sings the word “breakdown” truly capture Ryan’s heartbreak and makes you feel that he purposely recorded these whimpers to fulfill the mood of the song.
Within twenty seconds of listening to Outbound Train, track nine of Adams’ 12 song effort, true fans will feel a major sense of gravitation to the familiar and cleverly captivating songwriting style. With an arena rock acoustic progression, Adams successfully utilizes this introduction to build anticipation of the full band beat drop. A minor detail about this song that is a great lesson in studio production is the choice of Don Was (and/or Ryan himself) to cut out the snare drum only for the first line of the second verse but keep every other drum level blasting. The first discovery of this minor drum edit adds excitement to the listening experience because it brings you out of the familiar momentum of the song and almost lets you catch your breath before the banging continues for the rest of the second verse.
I wouldn’t call this album the best since Heartbreaker but the songs that really stick out on the record prove Ryan Adams to be a strong, leading force in the singer/songwriter world.
Scott J. Herman