PAX AM/Blue Note
Ah yes, the break-up album.
That most highly-prized of musical forms, whereby the the base metal of romantic suffering is magically transformed into the gold stuff of music.
With his latest album, Prisoner, Ryan Adams attempts to perform this alchemical conjuring by turning his anguish into something transcendent. So what a disappointment it is, then, to discover that the end result is rather dull.
What Adams comes up with is a suite of songs that wilfully rejects originality in favour of shameless imitation. Sounding at different stages like 80s Bruce Springsteen (see ‘Haunted House’, ‘Shiver and Shake’, ‘Outbound Train’, in particular), and at others like classic-era Bono (‘Breakdown’), Adams appears to hollows himself out almost entirely. The disappearing act is so convincing that at one point, on the fourth track, ‘Haunted House’, you find yourself believing that you are hearing the Boss himself on lead vocal.
On the plus side, Adams does show himself to be a more than capable producer. His love of the 80s extends to his use of studio effects, whose echoing blasts often plaster over other musical deficiencies. Adams’ guitar work is also tastefully handled, with its bright, chiming sound providing an arresting contrast to the more sober lyrics.
Unfortunately, the lyrics are where we run into trouble once again. With his over-reliance on cliched sentiment and half-baked philosophy, Adams fails to say anything that we haven’t heard a million times before: who can fail to cringe at lines like, “I miss your loving touch, I miss your embrace/ But if I wait here any longer I’m gonna fade away.”
All this isn’t to say that the album is a total abject failure. In certain respects, the finished product is musically quite engaging, and Adams certainly knows how to embellish his songs without over-doing it. But the fact remains that you come away crying out for something more daring and in-your-face, and for something decidedly less middle-of-the-road and derivative.
Prisoner will be released in Australia on February 17.