North Country Heartache
It takes a uniquely fucked-up man to break his own heart
—“One Too Many” (Luke Doucet)
Fair died. I know it, and most of the time I can shrug it off like a hangnail or a minor itch I can’t quite reach. But every now and then I still stumble and fall for a record that sends me nosediving into a spiral of despair at the state of mainstream popular music. Salim Nourallah’s Beautiful Noise was one such record. Luke Doucet’s Broken (And Other Rogue States) is another. I think I need a drink. Leave the bottle.
Best known as Sarah McLachlan’s guitarist, the Canadian Doucet once headed up a band called Veal and he has also played with Blue Rodeo among others. Veal released three albums, and Doucet has released two prior solo albums: Aloha, Manitoba (2001) and last year’s Outlaws - Live and Unreleased which apparently did exactly what it said on the label. After a couple of quiet evenings in with Broken (And Other Rogue States) I plan to check out all five previous records stat; and I’d quite like to know why I’d never heard of Luke Doucet before.
Although Doucet is clearly an exceptionally talented guitarist, Broken (And Other Rogue States) is not your typical guitar player’s record. His songs are not vehicles for his solos, and when the Canadian does let slip his six string skills, it’s to complement his songs and to emphasise his emotional themes, not to draw attention to his penis. This is actually a predominantly subdued record. Quietly epic, sorrowful, wide-eyed with yearning, it reads very much like a devastatingly honest break-up album. If so, self-pity has not smothered Doucet’s wit or drowned the beauty of his compositions. This is a record best listened to alone, in the dark, looking out into a rainy night.
If you like that sort of thing.
And if you like that sort of thing, then you should know that such albums come along very rarely these days—especially since Mazzy Star faded to blue. Broken (And Other Rogue States) is something like Echo and the Bunnymen playing Cracker both at home and away, but that’s a comparison that neither flatters Luke Doucet, nor does him justice.
The opener, “Brother” is probably not a break-up song. To a superficial oaf like myself, it’s an intriguing, beautifully constructed, mid-paced lament for a brother who may have fallen in with the Devil, cocaine and guns. The second track, “Broken One” is clearly a break-up song. If “Brother” called the meeting to order, “Broken One” sets the agenda in no uncertain terms: “One day you’re going to miss me, one day you’re going to wake up cold”. An infinitely more human, less pompous “Bring on the Dancing Horses”, with lyrics that make sense, it’s a mildly bitter message to an ex. An ex called Emily, I assume. Because “Stumbling Gingerly Back to Emily’s Apartment” is a brief instrumental lightly shaded in Ry Cooder tones that leads directly to the unexpectedly latin “Emily, Please”. In which Mojave guitars dally with some familiar Santa Ana themes and Doucet offers both a Brian May solo and the telling plea: “Emily, please don’t tell my mother.” Anyone whose ever been there will know exactly what Luke Doucet is feeling here. And if you’ve never been there, you really need to get out more.
“Lucky Strikes” suggests Doucet might be getting over Emily. “Wallow” suggests he isn’t. Both are classic examples of traditional North American song-writing. “It’s Not the Liquor I Miss” picks up the pace, adds some lovely pop melodies, and underlines a leading theme of Broken (And Other Rogue States): that heartbreak leads to drinking and drugs, that recovery needs to address both, and that life can be hard when you don’t experience it through the deadening haze of alcohol or something stronger. It’s a philosophy that is repeated on the next song, “One Too Many”, which shows us Doucet at his most David Lowery. The music is a lazy, laid back blues rock, the vocals semi-spoken, the emotions and the craftmanship both irresistible: “Take my cigarettes, take my alcohol, take my heroin, let me feel again”.
The upbeat and heartbreak-free “Vladivostok” is followed by the brief confessional “If I Drop Names of Exotic Towns That You’ll Never See in the Songs That I Write, It’s That That’s All I Have When I Miss My Girl, And You’re Taking Yours Home Tonight”. “Free” then presents an uptempo declaration of determination that is immediately undermined by the waltzing desperation of “No Love To Be Made Here Now”: “I’m a drunkard, a loser, a talker/I’m a dreamer with conquered grey eyes”; and the closer “Keep Her Away From Me” juxtaposes a jaunty Leadbelly guitar with a curious and disturbing plea: “Keep her away from me because I’m not man enough to keep my hands where I can see them”. Closure, I guess, has not been achieved as yet.
Obviously, every American Idiot can choose to spend his money as stupidly as he sees fit, but it’s still a real shame that absurdly talented writers and performers like Luke Doucet are condemned to fly well below the popular radar because the industry is too busy making money off Mariah Carey and the Pussyfuckingcat Dolls to give a shit about real talent. I think I need another bottle.