★★★☆☆: 'Prisoner' is a return to form, despite leaning a little safe

After playing dress-up in Taylor Swift's stylings, Ryan Adams admits defeat to his broken heart

"Nobody falls in love to fail."

So says Ryan Adams as he opens the door into his life a fraction, following the breakdown of his marriage to Mandy Moore.

It hasn't been radio silence from the singer-songwriter - a polarising Taylor Swift covers album in the form of '1989' saw him attempt to rework it into something more digestible for those who find pop unpalatable.

Ultimately, Adams' strength lies in songwriting which is why '1989' floundered for some. He's not a singer who can swoon over melodies. What he can do is evoke the most intense memories of lost love - he tentatively titled his first album 'Heartbreak' after all.

Too effortless

While 'Heartbreak' presented raw accounts of Adams' stifled sparks; vocals near suffocating under the weight of loss, 'Prisoner' is a clear admission of defeat to his marriage and his misery. Shiver and Shake is the immediate front-runner for best track, with the sad realisation in lyrics: "I close my eyes, I see you with some guy / Laughing like you never even knew I was alive".

The Bruce Springsteen influence is obvious on the aforementioned track, Adam's vocals a low moan under lonely guitar.  It's this all-American sound that he's obviously most comfortable with - he's in safe territory strumming sadly.

But that's the thing - his comfort is palpable. While 'Heartbreak' was borderline uncomfortable to listen to at times, 'Prisoner' makes for wistful somber that never teeters over the edge of wallowing - which in one sense, is good. But in a lot of ways, it doesn't make for the most interesting of listens. The supposedly strong imagery used by Adams - tightropes, prisons, 'coal-black hearts' - all comes off as a little tired.

Fundamentally, it is still very much a pleasant and deeply personal listen. There is a lot to take from the material that will deeply resonate. Particularly, Adams' focus on acoustic sounds produces the sweetest songs - see Haunted House and Broken Anyway for example.

In more direct efforts, Do You Still Love Me? is a whip-crack and one of few portrayals of Adams as assertive and strength. 

Unlike its pop predecessor, 'Prisoner' will sit comfortably with plenty of fans and critics as another strong showing of Ryan Adams' songwriting skills. But consider the story that it inspired it, is it wrong to long for something a little juicier? 

★★★☆☆