It was fitting that Ryan Adams’s previous full-length album was a front-to-back cover of Taylor Swift’s award-winning 1989. Both artists have made careers out of amplifying their intimate stories into anthems while retaining the specificity of their songwriting—Adams, at the time, was going through a divorce with his then-wife Mandy Moore, and Swift’s tales of structurally-unsound young love translated well to weariness, Adams’s degradation of relationship reflected in the somber acoustic guitars comprising much of the album.
It’s a principle that hasn’t waned, despite the more uniformly electric soundscape occupying Prisoner. From the outset, Prisoner proves to be a way’s away from his 2000 debut solo album Heartbreaker, a Nashville purist’s wildest fantasy, but Adams even deviates from his bluesy 2014 self-titled album, the last original material we’d heard from him. It’s almost as if he needed 1989 as a middle ground to metamorphose, its pop sensibilities transforming him into a full-fledged heartland rocker. The sun-drenched organs and guitars of the opener, “Do You Still Love Me?,” evoke Bruce Springsteen in the late ‘80s, and on “Doomsday,” his declarations that “My love, we can do better than this” soar over crashing acoustic guitar riffs. On the whole, Prisoner isn’t too far off from a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers record, but its larger-than-life sound and raw sense of emotional turbulence fit the kind of grand arena orchestration that defined acts like Springsteen and Petty thirty years ago.