Ryan Adams is one of the few musicians left that seems to shrug off trends, allowing him to stand firmly as a staple of modern rock by making the music he wants whenever he wants to. On his latest record, Prisoner, he continues to blaze his own path, bring back country rock with moderate success.
For a man that “started (a) damn country band, ‘cause punk rock is too hard to sing,’” Adams has more than found his groove with country rock. Since his 2000 debut Heartbreaker, Adams has found success in alternative genres, especially in veins of deviants of rock, country and folk music. Although he may not hit his mark every time, Adams’ lyrics tend to mold to whatever he’s playing, helping craft each song into it’s own short story. However, in the past five years Adams’ talent has stalled. He’s released three listenable, but forgettable projects, including 1989, a collection of Taylor Swift covers. Now, with the release of Prisoner, Adams is attempting to redeem himself, taking the past few years as motivation and releasing what could be a very polarizing effort.
Prisoner is built on a heartland rock core, following in the footsteps of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Neil Young to tell personal stories and tales. “Haunted House” and “Do You Still Love Me?” carry these traits to their core, telling tales of loneliness, home and heartbreak to build small vignettes of his life into each track.
To get an additional layer of appeal, Adams builds in pop rock into this record, especially in songs such as “Shiver and Shake” which use echoed vocals and melodically strummed guitar chords to build a melancholic mood.
However, beyond that initial surface intrigue, there isn’t much else to be had. The formula Adams has built over so many years of releasing albums comes into play in nearly every song on this LP, making it and extremely consistent. But that gives Adams’ newest LP no highlights whatsoever because of its monotonous sound, leaving the listener with almost no surprises to keep them engaged and excited for the next track.
After one listen, most will likely find a song or two that wet their whistle or tickle their fancy. But with a second listen, these tracks only blur into Prisoner’s makeup and quickly fade away.
Maybe Adams was aiming for something bigger than just a collection of songs, but it’s difficult to even tell what the big picture might be. Even if he wanted fans to focus on the entire forest and not just one tree, Prisoner never makes any attempts to drive listeners toward a larger cause. After 16 albums, Adams is simply struggling to say something within heartland rock, and without a huge sound like that of Springsteen or an unfathomable diversity like that of Young.
Fans might already know what to expect out of this album, but for those who may be new to Adams’ sound this album might hold a few shocks. Yet, for how surprising this record can be, Prisoner lacks the oomph to make it an impactful addition to Adams’ discography and to 2017 as a whole. It’s an album for the moment, one to experience, enjoy and then eventually forget.