Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 21/4
Written by: TL on 02/04/2017 16:59:41
Arguably the biggest name in alt-country, America's ever productive Ryan Adams, arrives this year at his sixteenth studio album, "Prisoner". Those who know him know that 42-year-old songwriter is capable of putting out some great songs, but also know that he records and releases so much that you can't always reasonable expect for everything to be top shelf material. He hasn't changed super much over the years stylistically, sticking to a style that ranges from acoustic modern country songs over to twangy bluesy rock balladry.
An obligatory remark in a review of "Prisoner" is that it follows Adams' recent separation from actress Mandy Moore, and is through and through a breakup record. What that knowledge does to one's expectations is probably subjective, but upon hearing how the it opens with "Do You Still Love Me?" you could easily get your hopes up. The way the song opens with howling organ notes, interrupted by a strike on the electric guitar that then trades blows with Adams' bluesy "I been thinkin' 'bout you baby!" sets up dramatically - like a textbook example of how to start an album and get the listener to pay attention immediately. With that being said, though, it is sort of disappointing, that the song winds up being rather ordinary in the chorus section, although it does have a nice little guitar solo, skipping like a plane bouncing upon landing, its wheels screeching interruptedly on the tarmac.
It's sort of a snapshot of the record as a whole, however, because, on one hand, it sounds excellent. Adams - an experienced producer in his own right - has made sure that all the instruments sound all warm and vibrant and crisp - making for a record that is pleasant and inviting to listen to. But on the other hand, when that's been said, when you listen to the arrangements and the songwriting, the record honestly feels a bit unambitious. The small blooming progressions and efficient instrumental framings around the vocals are good, but Adams could probably write them in his sleep by now, so you could feel some surprise that songs are allowed to come and go without really building into something that feels more intent on making itself noticed.
You can pick out the relatively catchy movements of "Doomsday" and the more dramatic "Breakdown" later on, then, while making note that Adams sounds more than ever like a Springsteen at his most introspective - yet that comparison doesn't work out in his favour. Because the songs ultimately do not feel as much as little works that Adams has wanted to hone all the way from raw emotions to impressive songs. More so, they feel a bit like tunes put together routinely, to give a backdrop for his dealing with the emotions coming out of the divorce. The lyrical images feel more wallowing, more self-indulgent, than profound, which is sub-par for Adams.
What you get then, is an album that sounds great - better than most in fact, where Adams experience is clearly on display, but simultaneously one that sounds like the artist was more concerned with writing basic tunes to exorcize his heartache over, than with grooming his inspirations into songs that listeners can really take to heart and form a lasting connection with.
Download: Do You Still Love Me?, Breakdown, Doomsday
For The Fans Of: Jason Isbell, Bruce Springsteen, Conor Oberst
Release date 17.02.2017
PaxAmericana / Blue Note Records