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At the center of every album is a musical thesis. This thesis can be the driving force behind the album, a theme that interweaves songs together, or a feeling you are left with after the very last song plays. With some albums, the thesis is easy to find. On others, it is hidden and requires you to be more than a passive listener. These reviews aren’t about rating an album. Instead, it is about uncovering a musical thesis.
Every Ryan Adams album is peppered with sadness. Yet, of everything he has done in his prolific career, the music on “Prisoner” is his most relatable. After the end of every relationship where I found myself madly in love, I’ve reached for Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds “Live at Luther College.” On repeat, you could find me sprawled out on my bedroom floor, crying, and searching for comfort in “Typical Situation.” These were losses that changed my whole world. As I listened to this album from Ryan Adams, I found a kindred spirit. Someone going through what I’ve been through. By channeling his pain through art, he has created a collection of songs I would reach for if I ever found myself in that dreaded position again.
In almost every song, you can sense disbelief that his marriage has ended. For any of us who follow Adams on social media, it is clear that disbelief exists to this day. But who among us hasn’t been there? The longer a relationship lasts, the longer you become attached to someone. When that falls apart, the grief can seem to last just as long. When I listen to this album, I don’t hear grief. What I hear is shock. For me, this is an interesting place in a person’s mind to give birth to a work of art. Not many artists before or since have focused on this space and time. Without a doubt, Adams sums up the feeling of something suddenly gone better than most.
In the natural order of things, we know what comes next. We mourn. We grow angry and then somewhere out of nowhere we find the strength to move on with our lives. I think albums such as this can serve as a springboard. They let us know what we are feeling isn’t unique. You and I aren’t the only people in human history to have their hearts broken and we won’t be the last. As sad as this album is, it can also comfort. For a rock and roll album, that’s pretty powerful.