[11 March 2012]
Any artistic output that matches the consistent modesty of the Indigo Girls’ could, on the flip side, be criticized for being unambitious—with every new LP from the ‘Girls, you can expect another batch of straight arrow folk pop/rock pearls, but very little if any divergence from the formula they’ve thoroughly established. But who could really complain? Not only do the Indigo Girls (as well as Amy Ray, individually) fill the classicist folk/rock/pop hole almost singularly, but adherence to convention is absolutely encouraged in the folk tradition that they’re (sorta) disciples of. You always know precisely what you’re getting yourself into here.
It’s easy to forget that Lung of Love is an Amy Ray solo effort because there are several moments where it sounds like a new, slightly offbeat Indigo Girls record, and this is anything but surprising, considering Ray’s attachment to the pop/rock blueprint whether or not she happens to be teaming up with fellow Indigo Girl Emily Saliers.
However, Ray has always been been the more thoughtful (and “rock"ful) of the pair—the Lennon to Saliers’ ebullient McCartney, if you’ll forgive the disproportionate analogy—and her solemnity permeates the entire album, even in a relatively upbeat track like “Glow”, which lands squarely in powerpop territory and begs comparison with another Aimee. “When You’re Gone, You’re Gone” and “I Didn’t” do a great job of demonstrating Ray’s still-fantastic voice, and the affected political suggestions within “From Haiti” are still thankfully overshadowed by the unwavering “chug-chug” rhythm and infectious vocal melody that carry the song. “Crying In The Wilderness” is more redolent of Ray’s previous work in the Indigo Girls than any other song on the album, and this can likely be attributed to its spontaneous guitar slides and boisterous banjo, as well as pastoral allusions in the song’s lyrics that don’t really abound anywhere else on the record. The ambiguous “Little Revolution” is incontestably the song’s sparkling pop highlight; filled with frenetic drum fills and ‘60s-tinged vocal harmonies, it brings to mind downer guitar pop bands like the Lemonheads. “The Rock Is My Foundation” is a fairly ludicrous attempt at a gospel that affects the album’s otherwise comely flow, but the title track which follows it is good enough to remedy this hindrance. Filled to the brim with creative chord changes and lyrical triumphs, it’s reminiscent of Figure 8-era Elliot Smith, and it’s entirely unsurprising that it birthed the title of the album. Ray’s blown-out vocal in “Give It a Go” is the sort of aesthetic that I wish she would explore more thoroughly, as it suits the song more than I’m sure anybody could have expected; and “Bird in the Hand” is a fitting jubilation of a record closer.
Without a doubt, Lung of Love’s highlights are Ray’s wonderful voice and rivaled-by-few melodic leanings. However, when the songs step into political territory I can’t help but quiver. While Ray’s attempt at tackling untraversed political issues is valiant, “meaningful” folk songs are unquestionably trite, and even in spite of her “punk rock” essence, it’s hard to tell how into it she really is, or if they’re just there because people expect them to be. But with the exception of these few straggling moments, Amy Ray has produced a damn decent pop/rock record from beginning to end. There’s no wheel reinventing here, but certainly some wheel-lubricating.