If We Loved Her Dearly is any indication, Lowell has simply run out of material, if not ideas, musical or otherwise.
Canada's Lowell is debatably better known in Europe than she is on her home turf. She was a member of the supergroup Apparatjik, which featured members of Coldplay, Mew and a-ha, and she performed with them as a headliner at the 2012 Roskilde Festival in front of 60,000 people. Conversely, when she played an arts festival in Ottawa, Canada, this past August, her name was on the posters promoting the event in teeny, tiny type – beneath Ottawa acts who don't have the international reach that Lowell arguably does. So Lowell has to work to become as much of a quantity in the New World as she is in the Old World. We Loved Her Dearly, her debut full-length album following an EP, I Killed Sara V., that was released earlier this year, would considerably be the natural calling card to introduce her to a much wider audience. A pity, then, that it falls quite a bit flat. Make no mistake: Lowell has talent, and she sticks true to her musical vision (as evidenced by the fact that she scrapped a bunch of songs that she wrote with a group of music industry movers and shakers in London, England). She also sings freely about women's issues and issues of sexuality, which is a huge plus – the world definitely needs strong women to offer strong voices in the pop and rock landscape, especially when it is so dominated by men. (As a point, how many women compared to men are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? According to a 2011 Salon article, women make up only about a paltry less than 15 percent of the Hall's membership.) However, We Loved Her Dearly is a major disappointment, for a number of key reasons.
The biggest issue with the disc is one of redundancy. Five of its 12 tracks already appeared on the I Killed Sara V. EP, which, if you’re keeping score, is all five songs from that collection. Now, if you bought the EP on iTunes, you can top up the release without having to buy those five songs all over again. Apparently, many artists, including Lorde, are doing this. And I can’t find evidence that the EP was issued in a physical format, which means that if you buy this album in the physical world, you won’t be paying for it all over again. This is all part of a marketing strategy to introduce a developing artist to the public. However, it is telling that these five songs are among the best cuts on the full-length. I’m scratching my head here. Why not issue another EP in this case of new material? Well, the answer again may lie in the fact that the remaining seven songs are generally weaker. It distresses me to write this, as someone who generally liked the I Killed Sara V. EP, but there it is. And it’s not as though the songs have been remixed or fussed with in any way: they’re exactly the same, right down to the runtimes. So this is a source of frustration with We Loved Her Dearly. The biggest pleasure comes from songs that have already been previously released. And while these might be good songs – “The Bells” is about as great as any song released in Canada this past year, and, it turns out, it still is – the marketing strategy is questionably a bit suspect.
What, then, of the new material? Well, the album kicks off with "Words Were the Wars", which sees Lowell trying on her best Björk impersonation with her childlike vocals. However, the song runs a good six and a half minutes – a minute longer than it needs to be – and is icy and cold, backed only with a shaker of percussion. "Summertime" is a glistening piano ballad that shows that Lowell has been directly influenced by working with someone in Coldplay. If you like Coldplay, you'll like the song. If not ... enough said. "The Sun" might be the biggest misstep of the new material, as it features Lowell cooing against what appears to be a discordant sample full of vinyl scratchiness. This may sound strange, but it kind of resembles Sparklehorse around the It's a Wonderful Life period, but it still doesn't really work as the experimentation gets away on Lowell. The disc's most notable moment may come with "LGBT", which is, of course, an anthem for queer culture ("Don't take your misery out on me, I'm happy and free," sings Lowell). However, the song really lacks bite – "Don't hate our love" goes the refrain, which seems vaguely simplistic. Considering that the Westboro Baptist Church is out there preferring that God send a few lightning bolts down to those who are homosexual and all, it's a shame that Lowell doesn't trade a few heavily veiled barbs back rather than try to preach about sexual tolerance, which is naturally talking to the already converted. Just sayin'.
When all is said and done, I’m crushed by We Loved Her Dearly, which sees the goodwill that Lowell earned with her earlier EP evaporate and leave the building. By introducing her best songs first, and then issuing them again on an album with generally weaker material, it is as though her best ideas and songs may already be behind her, which is not the impression you want to leave on your debut full-length. Lowell is an important Canadian act. She deserves to be heard and find a wide audience, whether it is at home or abroad. I love that she talks about the experience of being a woman and gets into sexual politics, which is something that the world certainly needs more of. However, the impact of this full-length is blunted. Rather than reaffirm Lowell’s status as an emerging artist, it just recycles material, which speaks more to the marketing plan than the songs. Perhaps the record would have been better if Lowell did, indeed, reuse the tracks from her EP, but just remixed them and changed them up a bit. Perhaps the record would have been better still if she only took a song or two from the EP and represented it on her debut LP, and didn’t reuse the whole thing. However, Lowell sings here that “I’m walking in circles” on “Tell Me What You Want Me to Do”, one of the new songs here. One thing is for certain: Lowell needs a better marketing plan if she still wants to be playing to crowds of 60,000 people. If We Loved Her Dearly is any indication, Lowell has simply run out of material, if not ideas, musical or otherwise.