Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

Review: Ed Sheeran and Ryan Adams take introspective journeys on new albums

Disassociation in all its forms — death, nostalgia, love lost, letting go — is such well-worn territory for songwriters that you wonder why the best keep returning to that well. But that's what Ryan Adams and Ed Sheeran have done with new records.

For Adams, the inspiration for Prisoner was his divorce from singer and actor Mandy Moore. For Sheeran, ÷ (pronounced Divide) is the result of a year's escape from the throes of fame, of unplugging from social media and traveling the world to replenish his creative energy.

How did it work out for them both? Let's see.

• • •

Ryan Adams, who is headlining the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa March 12, is so prolific that it can be hard to separate his peaks from his plateaus and valleys. But with 2014's focused Ryan Adams and 2015's track-for-track cover of Taylor Swift's 1989, it's clear he's on a mid-career upswing. Prisoner continues that run.

One look at the tracklist suggests the album came from a dark and personal place — Doomsday, Haunted House, Breakdown, Broken Anyway — but what's surprising is just how much forward momentum Adams packs into the album's pace and melody. There are no real weepers here, not even the countryish To Be Without You (a song that wouldn't sound out of place on a Whiskeytown LP), or the moodily ambient Shiver and Shake. With its opening harmonica salvo, Doomsday is reminiscent of Adams' freewheeling 2001 track Firecracker. Even the stark, solo-sounding Tightrope has a bright beacon of a saxophone leading the way through Adams' anguish.

And that anguish is definitely there. Adams brings many of his usual lyrical cliches to Prisoner — fire and ice, cracked walls and windows — but also some new and painful truths about a relationship on the outs. "The problem is what we want to say ... will just blow us both away," he sings on Broken Anyway. In the post-mortem of their love, he can sound rueful ("I've been waiting here like a dog at the door / You used to throw me scraps, you don't do it anymore," he sings on Shiver and Shake) yet refuses to absolve himself of any blame ("You deserve a future and you know I'll never change," he sings on We Disappear). In a house full of "static and ... panic," he sings on Tightrope, "all I want is for you to make me smile." But that just ain't happening.

The wistfulness in Adams' lyrics is compounded by what feels like a hell-bent nostalgia for a specific, reverb-washed guitar sound — and for that, you must give some credit to producer Don Was, famed for facilitating a similar rock aesthetic in the late '80s and early '90s. There's a crunching 2-3-4 wallop on lumbering opener Do You Still Love Me?; a glistening three-chord rip to open Anything I Say To You Now; acoustic power chords punching through Haunted House; sparse flicks of the wrist echoing in the night on We Disappear. If Ryan Adams was Adams' Heartbreakers record, Was here helped him create a tonal nod to Bruce Springsteen circa Tunnel of Love. And it works. What's next, an album with fellow '80s-rock architect Mutt Lange?

Actually, given how consistent and cohesive Prisoner turned out, that might not be a bad idea.

• • •

Ed Sheeran is 26, about the same age as Adams when he released his 2000 solo debut, Heartbreaker. Yet the British busker-turned-idol is vastly more famous than Adams will ever be, which might be why he already feels ready for a career reset.

"I used to think that nothing could be better than touring the world with my songs / I chased the pictured perfect life, I think they painted it wrong," he raps on Eraser, Divide's opening track. "I think that money is the root of all evil, and fame is hell / Relationships, and hearts you fixed, they break as well."

Fret not for poor Teddy, though, because Divide makes intriguing use of Sheeran's broad musical vocabulary, expanding from bland balladry and folk-hop frivolity into something bigger, broader and, dare I say, deeper.

Set aside the album's monster first single, Shape of You — pop music didn't need yet another breathy trop-pop come-on, no matter how cleverly crafted — and instead listen to the songs that pull Sheeran out of his guy-with-guitar comfort zone. Castle On the Hill, is a breathless U2/Coldplay-style anthem in which Sheeran whoops, whines and pines nostalgic for his hometown and halcyon days. Barcelona and Bibia Be Ye Ye, two songs from Divide's worthy deluxe edition, experiment with more global sounds — passionate Latin dance pop on the former, African soukous on the latter.

Sheeran's ballads on Divide are his best since The A Team. Prepare to weep at least once to the intimate Supermarket Flowers, a tribute to Sheeran's late grandmother; it's treacly but undeniably affecting. There's a rich Van Morrison quality to the lovely piano ballad How Would You Feel (Paean), featuring a warm solo from fellow guy-with-guitar John Mayer. (Mayer's influence is apparent on the bluesy slow-dance knockoffs Perfect and Dive.) This album's wedding-dance staple, a la Thinking Out Loud, could be Hearts Don't Break Around Here, a lovesick swooner about "daisies on your forehead" and "roses on your bedspread."

Even some of Sheeran's poppier instincts here feel more fleshed out than on albums past. The Kardashian-referencing, shade-slinging New Man, a song about ultramodern jealousy that tries to be both sexy and jokey, hews to my ears more toward the latter, but your mileage may vary. Galway Girl, meanwhile, is a guilt-free guilty pleasure; with its charming Celtic touches, it ought to be on every St. Patrick's Day party playlist. As should Nancy Mulligan, an more traditional Irish pub clog-stomper that tells the love story between Sheeran's grandparents.

Would songs like Nancy Mulligan, Barcelona, Bibia Be Ye Ye and Supermarket Flowers have come to Sheeran's pen had he not taken a year to travel the world, to recharge and reflect? There's certainly a sense of nostalgia for family and simpler times that runs throughout Divide. There's also a curiosity about the future; as sings on Bibia Be Ye Ye: "Things are looking up ... Tomorrow's a new day."

Sheeran meant for this album to be huge, and it will be. It'll contend for Album of the Year at next year's Grammys, as will Shape of You for Record and Song. More importantly, it shows that Sheeran, already a resourceful live performer, intends to evolve as a songwriter. It's not a crazy leap forward, but he's only 26, and has more peak creative years ahead. If Divide is a taste of what's to come, he'll earn those accolades in spades.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

 
Comments
Kim Walker-Smith talks postpartum depression, women in ministry and more

Kim Walker-Smith talks postpartum depression, women in ministry and more

Kim Walker-Smith, the lead singer for renowned worship band Jesus Culture, felt overwhelmed and dazed following the birth of her second son.She cried without knowing why. She mumbled her words. When her mother suggested postpartum depression as the c...
Updated: 3 hours ago
SoundBytes: Brian Setzer Orchestra, Behemoth, Koo Koo Kanga Roo and more

SoundBytes: Brian Setzer Orchestra, Behemoth, Koo Koo Kanga Roo and more

— After avoiding this marketplace for years, the Brian Setzer Orchestra will bring their wildly popular annual Christmas tour back to Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Dec. 5. Tickets are $52.75 and up. Click here for details. (And for a review ...
Published: 07/16/18
Penn and Teller postpone Mahaffey Theater performance due to Teller’s back surgery

Penn and Teller postpone Mahaffey Theater performance due to Teller’s back surgery

Raymond Teller, half of the great magic and comedy duo Penn and Teller, tweeted last week that his recent back surgery "was an even bigger success than I'd expected."Good news for him! But it's still bad news for Tampa Bay fans.While Teller is recove...
Published: 07/16/18
Underoath coming to the Yuengling Center in Tampa

Underoath coming to the Yuengling Center in Tampa

Underoath's comeback is getting bigger than ever.The (formerly) Christian metalcore band, one of the biggest acts ever to come out of Tampa Bay, broke up in 2013, reformed in 2016, and have been touring the world and playing to huge audiences ever si...
Published: 07/16/18
Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus talks vocal longevity, picking future A-listers as openers and more

Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus talks vocal longevity, picking future A-listers as openers and more

With more than a dozen No. 1 hits like Bless the Broken Road and What Hurts the Most, Rascal Flatts remain one of Nashville's most reliable headliners; their summer tour hits Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday.But two decades in, ...
Published: 07/16/18
Review: Sam Smith lightens the mood in joyful concert at Tampa’s Amalie Arena

Review: Sam Smith lightens the mood in joyful concert at Tampa’s Amalie Arena

We should all can the sad-boy talk. Live and in person, Sam Smith smiles a lot.He smiles before and after almost every song, waving and pointing to the crowd. He even smiles when singing all his huge, heart-filled hits – yes, even the really, r...
Published: 07/14/18
Chief Keef cancels Saturday’s concert at Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Chief Keef cancels Saturday’s concert at Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Well, who could have seen this coming?For the fifth time since 2013, Chicago rapper Chief Keef has canceled a Tampa Bay concert. This time, he was scheduled to perform at a party dubbed "Baychella" on Saturday at the Ritz Ybor.On Instagram, the venue...
Published: 07/13/18
Rascal Flatts talks longevity, the road, and picking the perfect opener

Rascal Flatts talks longevity, the road, and picking the perfect opener

There was a time, believe it or not, when Rascal Flatts was considered cutting-edge country. Okay, "cutting-edge" might be pushing it — the trio’s wholesome, harmony-laden style was never all that controversial. Still, when you survey the pop- and R&...
Published: 07/13/18
Could Rays’ new Ybor City stadium host concerts? Thoughts from Al Lang Stadium.

Could Rays’ new Ybor City stadium host concerts? Thoughts from Al Lang Stadium.

ST. PETERSBURG — With a thin mist spitting from the sky overhead, Dave Pirner sized up the baseball stadium-turned-soccer pitch before him and chuckled."Let’s get ready to rumble," said the Soul Asylum singer, kicking off a concert Wednesday night at...
Published: 07/12/18
Review: 3 Doors Down headlines, but Collective Soul steals the show at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg

Review: 3 Doors Down headlines, but Collective Soul steals the show at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg

Even before they took the stage Wednesday night in St. Petersburg, 3 Doors Down had a couple of things working against them.1. They had to follow a brilliant, 360-degree sunset that hung over Al Lang Stadium for the better part of a half-hour.2. They...
Published: 07/12/18