“Send me something different”, I said.
I don’t have a working knowledge of Americana…or American Folk…or Folk in general!
I might be in trouble.
So, here I am sat listening to one of the Godfathers of modern Americana, wondering how on earth I am meant to review this music?
No dear reader, I shall not wain. I shall strive to express to you Loudon Wainwright the Third’s latest offering, Older than my Old Man now, as best as I possibly can.
Let’s face it, what other choice do I have?
Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of the Wainwrights, I know, I know, many of you out there would declare a statement like that to be akin to heresy, but you know what, you probably don’t like something I adore, and you don’t see me moanin’ about it (I’m in a mood, can’t you tell?).
What I do appreciate though, is talent and quality. So this is where we shall begin our critique of LWIII’s latest long player.
Folk tales are all about resonance, about the echo and reply of society’s collective knowledge, wisdom and history; it’s about the good, the bad and the warts an’ all.
LWIII certainly knows of to do this well, the production is unapologetically hand-crafted, not obviously artisan though. There is a robustness to the record, a solidity to it which could be equated to pulling out the drawers in a dresser, and noticing a craftsman’s signature, a mark of pride.
Interestingly, this album does not feel like a singular piece of art, but rather a selection of memories and ideas drawn together to form something which can only be realised and respected from a far. In his own words, Loudon describes the album as dealing with ‘Death ‘n’ Decay’, and the ideas in the album all share a similar theme of life, death, knowledge and wisdom, and reconciliation, as well as deep, deep love for those around him.
Opening track, ‘The here & the now’ is a biographical tale of LWIII’s life through his own eyes. I can’t help but taste a pang of self indulgence here. Do we really need a verse by verse account of his life? Seemingly his life seems to have gone ‘I was young in the 50’s, the 60’s were full of hippies, the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I had lots of sex and wives and oh the 21st century is kind of weird’.
Thankfully, LWIII follows this up with the melancholy, much more cynical and self critiquing, ‘In C’, producing his very best Paul McCartney impression., with a little bit of leftfield Neil Diamond thrown in for good measure, growling through some of the lyrics with cynicism. Simple piano and strings accompanying his voice, this is the man at his most pure and honest, taking the time to reconcile with himself, to reflect upon his worth and impact upon the world.
Give me more of this Loudon, or to ape a internet meme “Music: You’re doing it right’.
‘Date Line’ honestly, reminds me of ‘School House Rock – I’m Just A Bill’. Maybe it’s the insistence on funky horns and steel guitars, but it sounds distinctly 70’s and dated.
Overall, the biggest issues I have with the album may well be what others call it’s biggest strength, there’s just too much diversity in it. A distinct lack of synergy, of mixing and blending of singular ideas and themes. It is a wild piece of art, full of ideas and suggestions, opinions and ideals, but all struggling for control and fighting for a market share, which ultimately gives the album no solid sound to adhere to overall.
Which is a shame as there is so much good hidden away within, gems of beautiful, heart wrenching emotion, ‘Over the Hill’ for example is a restrained, respecting slice of humanity, with lyrics like ‘Your hourglass once has a top hat, and was filled full of sand, but it’s all trickled down’ punching you in the gut with saddened, resigned impotency about youth now lost.
‘I remember sex’ comes from the ‘lighthearted, retrospective dialogue’ school of thumb, something I find hard to truly enjoy. Dame Edna Everage guest vocals on this! Not someone who sounds like her, but Dame flipping Edna Everage. My brain cannot truly understand what has provoked LWIII to even consider producing the ‘track’, let alone put it on the album. It’s a charming piece of whimsy in certain respect, the descriptives being quite endearing, but unfortunately that warm, enticing cocoon of melody, drama and excitement from ‘In C’ and ‘Over the Hill’ is stubbornly, heartbreakingly shattered. If only this track’s ‘charm’ (and yes, the charm in inverted commas is intentional) was matched by inspiration. Sadly, it’s not, and it ruins the mood of what comes before it.
Bad Loudon Wainwright the Third, bad!
Thank the Lord for ‘Somebody Else’ coming in to save the album after that track. It’s downbeat, minor chords progression, unsettling strings, along with the dual lead vocals, produce a haunting, captivating, timeless and otherworldly piece of art. Given the subject matter, ‘Somebody else I knew just died…we’re not made to last, Life is a thing death was made to defeat’, it’s hardly surprising the track has a fatal beauty to it which stays with you long after the track ends on a strained, then eventually exhausted set of strings and accordion, like a heart holding on to its last beat, before succumbing to the all encompassing grip of death.
Would I buy this album, honestly, probably not, it’s not my usual cup of tea and its distinct lack of overall ‘sound’ does little to make me want to explore his back catalogue, for fear of discovering more Wainwright/Everage mashups! But do I appreciate what Loudon is producing, definitely yes. He is exploring important ideas about how music can reflect and affect life, death and everything in between, and when he does hit though high water marks, they become watercolours!
My singular gripe though is that when you’ve seen these watercolours, everything else just seems all the more grey, and that is the album’s biggest stumbling block. When the stand out tracks *do* stand out, it just shows you how moving and touching Loudon Wainwright III’s music can be, how it can widen eyes and flutter hearts. The flipside to this coin is that it makes the lesser tracks such a grander disappointment by comparison.
Words: Fuzz Caminski