[17 February 2014]
A friend of mine once told me a story about the time he was smoking a joint with John Sinclair a few years back. The poet-activist—who used to manage the MC5 in the late ‘60s before being sentenced to 10 years in prison for minor possession—explained to him the problem with a lot of modern rock music: “They forgot the roll; the roll is the sex part.” With Lydia Loveless’ third full-length studio album, Somewhere Else, which finds the Columbus, Ohio alt-country songwriter trading honkey tonk punk for gritty rock ‘n’ roll, this isn’t a problem. Sex blasts from the amps and, as usual, is a consistent theme in her lyrics. There’s plenty of roll.
We like people like Lydia Loveless because they say whatever the hell they want. But it’s not a gimmick with her; she doesn’t rely on shock value. There are just unfiltered moments, like in the opening track, “Really Wanna See You”, where she sings about going to a party, doing blow, crying and, ultimately, calling someone she shouldn’t. People normally don’t share this stuff, but can definitely relate to it. Loveless is fearless.
It was inevitable that Loveless was going to make this album. Ever since 2010’s polished, throwback-country leaning breakthrough The Only Man, the 23-year-old has been slowly embracing power chords and distortion. A graceful and gradual shift, Loveless has been carving a path toward a distinct sound. On Somewhere Else, she hits the sweet spot between where she came from and where she’s going.
Even with the increased voltage, she still patches together some incredibly catchy hooks, more like a gut punch than being force fed sugar. “Well, Verlaine shot Rimbaud, because he loved him so / And honey, that’s how I love you / Well, Verlaine shot Rimbaud, because he loved him so / And honey, that’s the way I want to go,” Loveless sings, referencing the volatile relationship between the two 19th century French poets on the track “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud”. Loveless herself is not an overly poetic writer; she’s more of a straight-forward heavy hitter, but you have to admire how quickly—and sharply—she gets to her points.
One of Loveless’ greatest assets is that she sounds tough even when she’s singing about being weak. Her haunting, fearless howls on “Everything’s Gone” and “Wine Lips” breathe fire all over the vulnerability and uncertainty. She’s comfortable wearing her scars and that’s a good quality in a person.
It’s sad and sometimes pathetic when a musician or band that had real potential becomes stale. Whether they’re stuck or content, they almost become a parody of themselves and slowly fade away or quickly implode. On Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless is restless. She hasn’t let the praise from her first two albums inflate her head. There’s a sense of urgency on Somewhere Else, a need to keep searching and exploring. And she’s onto something.