[8 November 2011]
You don’t meet folk like Lydia Loveless everyday. “Rare as Hen’s teeth” I believe is the expression. If you believe in Rock ‘N’ Roll, you pray for people like Lydia Loveless. A walking hurricane. The match and the Molotov. The brain and the brawn. The kit ‘n’ kaboodle. The real deal. A Star. Freaks of nature that emerged seemingly from nowhere, fully formed. Put simply, born to raise hell, steal, hearts and look fuckin’ cool whilst they’re doing it…
Rollin’ like a cannonball out of Nowheresville, Ohio and freshly signed to Bloodshot – the youthful home of Ryan Adams and Neko Case - Indestructible Machine is 21 year-old Lydia Loveless’ second album after dipping her toe in with 2010’s promising debut, The Only Man. Nine rounds of haymakers without a weak link, each track diving into the next with such conviction and desperation as if every second was the last chance of escape, of salvation. Housed in a lovably scrappy, homemade sleeve that depicts a Loveless-lookalike slumped in the gutter drinking gasoline from the can, it’s 40 minutes of someone throwing rocks at your bedroom window, hollering, “Wake the fuck up; get your ass down here! you can sleep when I’m dead!”.
Yes it’s Country Jim, but not as we know it. It’s country looted n’ rebooted by feral youth, jus’ like Hank, Johnny, Loretta, and Ryan played. Raw, rough, bloody ‘n’ passionate, and with little reverence for rules and etiquette. Loveless’ voice itself: a caterwaulin’ junkyard angel bouncin’ between Michelle Shocked and Neko Case. The words: the slurred n’ blurred poetry of Shane MacGowan laced with the yearning angst of Tammy Wynette. Like true stars, Loveless knows how to spin a great yarn and create her own mythology—from the name, to the sleeve, to the Bukowskian tales of boozin’ and losin’ before the mornin’ after mourning. It’s all done so convincingly and sincerely that the truth seems irrelevant, the myth and mystique so compelling.
Indestructible Machine is a record which rarely comes up for air. “Bad Way To Go” opens like a scene from a western with drunken brawlers crackin’ barstools across each other’s backs before tossin’ ‘em out, dopey ‘n’ dazed, crashin’ through the window onto the street. Banjos, scratchy guitars, and Loveless spitting for her cute-but-mute “pussy” man to write her “A love letter in the gravel with your piss”. Elsewhere an unrepentant LyLo calls Jesus to her defence during the “Folsom Prison Blues”-style barnstormer “Jesus Was A Wino Too”. Church can’t redeem this damned soul, for the Priest is “a mooch” and “If I cant find a corkscrew / I’ll just smash it open right here on the floor”. Later, “Do Right” whips like loose electricity: “It’s people like me that keep bars like that in business”, it sparks. Folks, there’s reports of a ‘Hellcat’ in town; put out saucers of milk but lock all your doors and windows. “I’ve got a conscience that’s a mile fucking wide / But it seems to disappear everytime I stay up at night”. There are many genuine laugh out loud moments, particularly on the swaying “Steve Earle”, a surreal recount of being stalked by an Earle wannabe which concludes, “How d’you even get my number!?”.
The confessional style swings from angelic to devilish throughout, but generally the forked-tailed, horny one holds court a little longer. “My mouth is like a sinking boat”, Loveless laments during the rowdy mea culpa of “Can’t Change Me”. Like a lot of the record, it finds solace in moonshine and wine: “It looks like whiskey’s the only thing that’s gonna kick my ass”. Like some mischievous, ragged relation of Huckleberry Finn, Loveless finally concedes, “Being good is gonna kill me”. These are classic outsider tales, standing on the edge of the regular world, lookin’ in and trying not to fall back into the abyss. A crossroads marked ‘Conformity’ or ‘Screw You’. “Why can’t I be more like them? / They get away with shit I never will”, she stomps on the choppy, barndancin’ tantrums of “More Like Them”, evoking the surly magnetism of ‘56 Elvis. A lip curlin’, smokin’ gun, shot from the waist up, gold shades and a walking advert for youth gone wild.
All this bad-ass posturing would be worthless, though, without some heart ‘n’ soul, and Indestructible Machine has plenty. Your grandparents could sway a slow, romantic waltz to “How Many Women”, which redresses our firecracker rebel in a nice floral dress, silk bows, and sensible shoes; albeit probably still discretely packing a switchblade and hip flask. The melodic, endearing, and sweetly sad Ryan Adams-style “Learn To Say No” could bring a tear to a glass eye: “I can’t go anywhere without being three sheets / I guess I’ll always be this goddamn unhappy”. It darn makes you wanna go fetch a blanket and some warm cocoa, until she abruptly stands up and decides, “I gotta treat my body like an indestructible machine!”. Umm, maybe cancel that cocoa. The most breathtaking moment, though, is the last chance saloon, the closing “Crazy” (no, not that one). Just a lonesome guitar, violin, and that voice naked under the spotlight: “I know I’m not making the best of impressions / I know you’re scared of me / Maybe you should be”. It’s a cross between AA meeting and the end of Purple Rain when “The Kid” realizes they’ve been a jerk and makes amends by conjuring musical alchemy. In other words: I’m not crying, its just been raining on my face, honestly.
Lydia Loveless’ second record is, by turns, a succession of swift punches to the face followed by a lover’s warm, passionate embrace. Either way, it holds your attention. Indestructible Machine is as good as anything I’ve heard this year and marks the true, and truly defiant, arrival of what could be a serious talent. “You can’t write me off as white trash”, she protests, and damn gal’s right. This music is razor sharp but bluntly honest, witty, massively entertaining, and often crushingly swoonsome. On this strength of these nine songs, Lydia won’t be loveless for much longer. A riot starr is born! But God help us, this one’s gonna be trouble.