Perhaps the timing is entirely coincidental, but it’s hard not to take this as commentary on what is going to happen at noon (Eastern Time) today. At any rate, now is when Ryan has chosen to unveil “Doomsday” — the aptly titled third single from his upcoming album Prisoner. And while I hadn’t previously thought of “Doomsday” as a political song, its stoic references to standing together as the world collapses in flames seem appropriate on this uneasy day. Take a listen below.
Posts Tagged With: Prisoner
Like any sensible person, I do my best to resist click-bait in all its forms. But here’s a headline that I just could not resist:
What a wonderful world this would be if such a thing were possible. I cannot imagine it ever happening (although, if it did, I sure as heck would be lobbying University of Texas Press about updating “Losering”). Anyway, this came up in an interview with Ryan where the primary subjects were his upcoming Prisoner album and current studio project with Liz Phair. And here is what he said in response to a question about whether or not Whiskeytown might someday reunite:
“Well I mean maybe. It’s so funny that you mention [Whiskeytown] because there is something going on with that, but it’s still kind of on the down low,” Adams said. “Some of the folks that were in the band, and myself, feel like we have such funny stories to tell about how and in what way all of that happened and it was so funny it happened to US and I think we were all acutely aware, going ‘Wow, not only are we unprepared, but we suck on some level that we’re also aware of, and we were just having fun, so how do you temper that?’ Also being so young and so green to the thing that is the music business. It’s very strange to think that was sort of a side thing we were just trying out and that would’ve been the first sort of trip. I’m funny in the way where I have a dry sense of humor, and I think I’m probably a little bit more sarcastic than people can realize, especially in print, and I once in a humorous sort of way but I sort of meant it, I said ‘Oh i hate country music’ and there were a lot of purists that said, ‘Oh Ryan Adams has forgotten where he came from.’ Ironic baseball hats across America were probably chiming in on some message board somewhere and I thought, ‘yeah but that’s a funny statement to make cause it’s still pretty rooted in what I do — that sort of Grateful Dead, [Gram], The [Byrds] — finding those influences. I love the storytelling and I love what it is, but I think it’s been so long now if Whiskeytown were to ever try to make a record, and me carrying on with making the music I made from the beginning, before those sort of side things, it would be weird. It could be weird good but I don’t know. If it was the original lineup. We talk every year, a couple times a year. Everybody’s cool. It’s the same as it ever was.”
Same as it ever was, huh? Okay, then, here’s hoping.
My eldest son Aaron is really good at a bunch of things I’m pretty terrible at, like writing poetry. And where I can’t hardly draw a straight line, Aaron is quite adept at drawing, too, rendering semi-surreal figures that look like outlines for the sort of paintings that Chris Mars has done over the years. In this, I think Aaron might take after his uncle, my brother Andy Menconi, a crackerjack multi-media artist and musician (whose heartbreakingly adorable daughter Cleo is also a rising star).
Anyway, Aaron dashed off a sketch inspired by the cover of Ryan Adams’ upcoming album Prisoner (based on the alternative apple version) and gave it to me for a Christmas present, and I really like it. So before framing and hanging it, I took a picture, which is below. At right is what it looks like on the wall alongside a few of Andy’s cartoons; Aaron did the two on the bottom.
A few days before Ryan Adams’ next album was to be released on its original Nov. 4 street date, word got out that it had been postponed for reasons unknown. Eventually, Feb. 17 was set as the new D-Day. But that didn’t stop bootleg versions of Prisoner from leaking out and showing up online in early December. By now, Prisoner has been heard and discussed enough that I decided to go ahead and publish my take on it, even though the album won’t be “officially” released for close to two months. My feeling is, no harm no foul — if someone still hasn’t heard it, wants to wait and keep their listening experience untainted by anyone else’s opinion, well, my review is certainly easy enough to avoid.
It’s worth noting, however, that Ryan himself strongly disapproves of this whole business of Prisoner being in premature circulation. Right around the time that Prisoner’s songs began appearing online, he published a plea via Instagram imploring people to wait and buy the thing when it actually comes out. But given the rabid loyalty of the DRA fanbase, I doubt the leaked version of Prisoner will cut into his sales too much; the people listening now will probably be the first to buy it as soon as it becomes available. And while I have some sympathy for Ryan’s viewpoint (especially since I’ve been bootlegged myself), there’s still no un-ringing that bell once something is out there.
Anyway, below is what he had to say about it.
I know you can stream this record
I don’t know to stream records, personally
It’s worth it to buy this. It’s worth it to buy a record you can hold, so you can feel it exist. So that you can have a moment with that record in a room. So it can age with you.
MOST IMPORTANTLY!!! It will help us get shit tons more lasers, keep our crew and band paid, keep us on the road
And because RECORDS MATTER!
ART MATTERS! THERE IS HOPE THERE. It’s a place for us to dream togeher.
But no matter what, no matter how you listen… Thank you. You’re the smartest, most unpretentious, sweetly brash misfit toy bunch of fans an unsophisticated spazz like me could ask for. This thing we built, YOU guys, these songs, our crew, the bands… It’s a blessing. It’s the MOST metal sad music is ever gonna get. And I am gonna be here with you Til I can’t do it anymore. We need this shit back home right now and I’m ready to throw down and bring the dream. LETS DO THIS!
Maybe I’ll have that custom Strat done by then ; )
Maybe even than custom pedal!!! ; )
I LOVE YOU PEOPLE
Happy Holidays: PEACE
I think it was this past March when I decided once and for all that I was finally over Ryan Adams. It was after seeing him play at South By Southwest, the first show of his I’d seen in more than a decade and one where I went in expecting an emotional experience. But it really wasn’t. I mean, it was fine — and that’s all, just fine. Yeah, there were a few tug-at-the-heartstrings moments for us old-timers. But most of it felt like a lunch date with a long-ago ex where I had to finally admit that my fond old memories were nothing more than that, memories, and so far in the past that they just weren’t relevant anymore.
The whole experience seemed like a signal that Ryan really had moved on, and I should do the same. That feeling deepened a few months later when Ryan was in the papers excitedly describing his upcoming album as an unholy cross between AC/DC, ELO, BTO, The Smiths and Bruces Hornsby and Springsteen, which sounded like it would be another record along the lines of 2014’s stillborn Ryan Adams (an album I found to be a true test of faith). Then I heard its first song, “Do You Still Love Me,” which gave no cause for optimism. So I had zero expectations when an advance copy of Prisoner came my way a few weeks ago. My plan was to give the album just enough of a listen to dismiss it well in advance of the Feb. 17 release date, chalk it up as one more to ignore and get on with my life.
…somehow, against all odds, Prisoner is actually really, really good. Not just good but great, the best album Ryan has managed in well over a decade. I’ve been binging on it for weeks now, too, and it’s holding up. All of which makes for a turn of events that I find, well, shocking. It’s not that I thought Ryan no longer had greatness in him — his 2014 one-off single “Jacksonville” still stands as frustrating proof that he has all along — but that I had resigned myself to the fact that he’d never do another album that rang my bell the way he did with those old Whiskeytown records I wrote about in “Losering.”
Ryan being Ryan and me being me, it should come as no surprise that I have a minor quibble or two. Regrettably, the funereal “Do You Still Love Me” remains in the album’s pole position as track number one (although that does make it easy to skip — bonus!). And man, do I still wish he’d give the ’80s-sounding reverb a rest and put that voice God gave him all the way out front more often, dry and unadorned. But that aside, Prisoner is fantastic and evokes a vibe similar to Ryan’s dark 2003-2004 masterpiece Love Is Hell.
Love Is Hell emerged from some profoundly heavy real-life trauma, including the 2002 cancer death of Ryan’s girlfriend Carrie Hamilton. Similarly, the end of Ryan’s marriage to Mandy Moore casts a long and despairing shadow over Prisoner — and the context makes all the sense in the world. I initially found Ryan Adams to be a turnoff because of its musical blankness, but that actually proved to be a good sonic fit for what we now know about Ryan’s emotional state when it was being made (Ryan and Mandy reportedly separated some time before their split was announced a few months after the release of Ryan Adams). In retrospect, 2011’s Ashes & Fire now sounds like contentment with a slight tinge of complacency, leading to Ryan Adams’ depiction of scenes from a dying marriage, with Ryan coming around to the realization that he’d been going numb over time without even realizing it. His subsequent Taylor Swift 1989 tribute felt like a wallow in the depression of it all; and now Prisoner is the equivalent of pulling a scab off and letting the wound underneath air out. From “Broken Anyway”:
It was broken it was fake
I just close my eyes and shake
Last chance before it slips away
Throw it all away
Can’t go back again, what was whatever it became?
Whatever we were, we’ll still be together in some ways.
It’s hard truth and it hurts, but it feels like action borne of clarity and focus. Ryan sounds more like himself (or the person this listener imagines him to be, anyway) than he has in years. The album’s overall tone is subdued but with a few interludes of release and even catharsis, like the thunderous dive-bombing guitar solo that ends the album-closing “We Disappear” — which dissolves into the sound of faint laughter, supposedly from Mandy Moore herself. “We Disappear” seems like an acknowledgement that it isn’t either individual who is disappearing, but the life they had together.
Was I wrong, am I still?
Nobody gets it
And nobody ever will
You deserve a future and you know I’ll never change
We disappear and we fade away.
I think my favorite part of Prisoner falls right in the middle, tracks five and six, starting with “Shiver and Shake” — which has a quietly murmuring, drive-all-night momentum similar to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. hit “I’m on Fire.” Ryan’s narrator imagines seeing his love with someone else, “laughing like you never even knew I was alive.” And he sounds shocked, not so much at the pain as the realization that he’s still capable of feeling this much pain. Oh, so this is what that feels like… “Shiver and Shake” fades into “To Be Without You,” spare and stoic and graceful, with lyrics that feel like a chunk of his heart carved out and set to music.
Everything you lose will always come find its way out
Every night is lonesome and is longer than before
Nothing really matters anymore…
He sounds utterly bereft yet also matter-of-fact about accepting his lot, seemingly believing it’s what he deserves — and it crushes me every single time I hear it. I just want to give the poor guy a hug and a mug of hot chocolate. Damn, Ryan. Come home sometime and the cocoa’s on me.
I really hate to say this, because it’s not a burden I would wish on anyone. But… Ryan really does seem to be at his best when he’s most forlorn. That is emphatically the case for Prisoner, an album I still can’t quite believe exists — one with real emotional stakes, that really does feel like life or death. I’m blown away.
And just like that, I’m back in love.
When Ryan Adams’ long-awaited new album Prisoner emerges in February, it will apparently be available with more than one cover. The primary cover art seems to be a reproduction of one of his paintings, but there’s also a vinyl version featuring a photograph of an apple that’s seen better days — a Barnes & Noble exclusive, priced at $18.99. That will be available on Feb. 17.
So this is going around as the cover of Ryan Adams’ long-awaited and oft-delayed next album Prisoner — which was originally scheduled for release last month but is now supposedly coming out in February (although he’s already playing its songs live and talking it up with Lil Bub). And this cover certainly does evoke a not-so-great feeling, making it a fitting visual symbol for an album made in the emotional fallout of his split from ex-wife Mandy Moore. That certainly seems to be the agenda of the first single, “Do You Still Love Me?”
Anyway, the cover art is one of Ryan’s paintings, and I thought it looked familiar. So I did a bit of online prowling around to try and find where I’d seen it before. And it appears to be from a group of paintings that Ryan had up for a charity auction back in 2009 at New York’s Morrison Hotel Gallery. You can see the original painting here, toward the bottom.
This Friday will be Nov. 4, and it may or may not see the release of a new Ryan Adams album called Prisoner. It’s a project Ryan has been talking about for close to two years now (see this handy timeline), and he claims to have recorded more than 80 songs for it. The initial interview about the album cited Nov. 4 as the release date, and Rolling Stone magazine thought it was enough of a sure thing to include Prisoner in its fall preview of “35 Must-Hear Albums” back in September.
But still, we’ve not seen track lists, cover art, pre-order previews or any of the other promotional tidbits that usually get dangled out there in the run-up to a high-profile album’s release. So two weeks ago, I put the question to Ryan’s publicist as to whether or not Prisoner really was coming out on Nov. 4 and received the terse reply, “tbd.” I asked today if anything had been determined and the answer was longer this time, but not much:
Nope, we’ll make a formal announcement once it’s ready.
It’s possible Ryan will follow the “unannounced surprise” model Beyonce has used for her last few albums and just drop the thing with no warning. But this point…I wouldn’t set your watch for Friday.
ADDENDUM (11/2/2016): It’s officially delayed.