If we’re to believe David Lynch’s concept that you can’t create – or create well, let’s say – when suffering, the idea of the divorce album becomes a fickle beast. Few artists have mined the depths of heartache more than Ryan Adams, and more often than not with stunning, devastating results.
Prisoner, then – his latest, heavily inspired by the end of his relationship with Mandy Moore – feels set up to be a perfect (albeit unfortunate) combination of artist and muse. But while there are certainly flashes of brilliance, Adams is understandably at times so overwhelmed by his suffering that he’s unable to step outside of it.
Though there’s some absolutely gorgeous production that recalls the lush sound and synthscapes of 80s rock, the songwriting is weighed down by clichés. These conventionally structured tunes sometimes sacrifice substance for style, with Adams tossing out cringeworthy lyrics like “Oh my soul / black as coal” on the shimmering Breakdown. Meanwhile, the swaying title track revisits an over-used classic: “If loving you is wrong, I am a criminal.”
What Adams nails, though, is the minutiae that fills your mind when you lose someone. Doomsday addresses the contradiction you can’t help obsess over after someone who’s told you a million times they’ll love you forever then leaves you. Shiver And Shake is driven by the feeling of waiting for someone you know deep down isn’t coming back.
Prisoner’s general hopelessness can wear on you and feel a bit suffocating. After all, it’s inspired by a world-shaking sadness. But when Adams finds a fire in himself, as on arena-ready opener Do You Still Love Me? or the howling, mid-80s Springsteenesque Outbound Train, he sounds genuinely inspired, hinting at the fact that this suffering is temporary. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Top Track: Outbound Train