[11 April 2012]
Devon Sproule’s sixth album, I Love You, Go Easy, shows the singer-songwriter taking a turn towards simplicity. These songs have sparse arrangements and mostly focus Sproule’s voice. She sings in a plain and conversational style. She rarely goes for the high or low notes to make a point. Instead, Sproule’s concerns lie with her phrasing, which fits her often poetic wordplay. She’s more interested in telling a story or turning a phrase then with melody and rhythm. This makes Sproule seem like she’s being honest. But … .
On the last track, hidden after the final one listed on the album credits, Sproule confesses that she has sung, “clichés, truths and lies.” Her description is accurate, despite the posing of her songs’ protagonists. This is not a matter of quality. There have been both great and terrible songs made up of clichés, truths and lies. The problem is that Sproule implies there is a qualitative difference between the three, and she struggles to tell the truth. However, she is best when letting her imagination run wild.
Consider the song about living for the future versus living for the present, “Monk/Monkey“. Sproule compares the two sides of her personality to symbols at the opposite ends of the behavioural spectrum to make her point. She lets the narrative wind its way to the silly. This works to take the earnestness of the lyrics into something more complex and strange. “Who can you love with the heart of a chicken / Ask your monk and go ask your monkey / He knows where your balls are hidden.” It’s funny, made more so by Sproule’s deadpan lack of inflection. The sincerity of her voice works as a contrast and deepens the topic, which is somewhat clichéd.
But when she seemingly gives the straight details of her life, on tracks like on “The Warning Bell” and “Now’s the Time”, Sproule is much less interesting. While it is true that the personal is political, the details of her family’s decision of what town to live in and what job inherently reflect larger values, so what? There is little poetic or romantic in these tales. There’s a difference between being confessional and being self-centered that relate to one’s perception of the audience. Sproule presumes we care, but it’s not always clear why we should.
For example, think of Joni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard” (Mitchell’s work is an obvious influence on this album). Mitchell gives us details: “Richard got married to a figure skater / And he bought a dishwasher and a coffee percolator / And he drinks at home with the TV set on.” However, the specifics stand for something. The settling for domesticity is poetically revealed. Sproule’s imagery too often just seems factually accurate and does not mean anything outside of the song. She sings, “You come home in the blue afternoon / Pick up the same tea and barbecue.” Mitchell and Sproule share a similar concern about settling for less in life, but Sproule’s depiction don’t invite a deeper analysis. It would not be any different if the person in the song came home in the rain and picked up burgers at Wendy’s.
Sproule’s idiosyncrasies add to her charm – to a point. On the best songs here, Sproule comes off as a charming friend who fills the listener in on what’s been going on since you last talked. She gossips and jokes, and keeps her serious side open even as she deflects getting too heavy about things. It’s nice to have friends, but that does not mean you should allow them to burden you unduly. Sproule knows this. As the title song says, “I Love You, Go Easy”. When Sproule keeps things laid back, she’s fun to hear. You can even fall in love for the length of the song.