In 2023, the album as a work of art is close to becoming an endangered species. Streaming, social media, and file sharing have unraveled the album as a cohesive work; instead, listeners can listen to tracks out of context and out of order, making it harder for artists to entice audiences to sit through an entire LP without skipping. Artists like Sheryl Crow or Ringo Starr have responded to this new musical landscape by moving away from the traditional long-play release and instead focusing on releasing singles or EPs – freed from trying to create thematic albums.
So, it’s all the more gratifying to land on a record like Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way Again, Lydia Loveless‘ sixth studio record. Though not a concept album in the strictest definition, it’s a collection of songs that combine to tell a unified story. Though the tracks culminate into a coherent single work of art, that doesn’t mean Loveless falls prey to monotony. Far from it. Each song is an individual letter to audiences with a unique message or sound. However, together, the tracks tell a story of vulnerability, heartache, sadness, and yearning.
“Feel”, one of the standout tunes, can be seen as a weary surrender. Loveless has been open in the past about addiction and alcoholism, so it’s especially poignant to hear her sing, “Midnight / Feeling lonely…drinking champagne / Not to be fancy / Just turns my brain off,” before realizing, “I’m getting older, and my jets are starting to cool / If I ever get sober it’s really over for you fools.” The song starts woozily, a hazy guitar fading in and out, ethereal and delicate, before the tempo picks up and the music finds a destination.
There’s a power in being open and vulnerable, particularly when expressing those feelings through song. Because Loveless is in control, there’s a steely resolve throughout the album, regardless of how candid the lyrics are. So, in a story song like “French Restaurant”, we get a searing portrait of a collapsing relationship, but Loveless is guiding the narrative, only exposing what she wants, thereby painting a confessional portrait on her own terms. Like an alt-rock Elizabeth David, she uses food as a narrative of the destructive nature of her love, musing brilliantly, “Lately I’ve been treated us like old fast food/Not $400 meals for two.” The song’s astute, the lyrics witty, yet laced with incriminating bitterness.
One of the most notable things about Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way Again is how lovely so much of it sounds. The record has an autumnal, reflective tone, reflecting a resigned sadness and unsettled peace. In “Summerlong”, the moving closer, Loveless draws her audience’s attention to her stirring voice and moving poetry. In contrast to the more radio-friendly jangly pop of the other tunes, we only hear Loveless’s close, tight voice accompanied by the melancholic string, making for an unbearably riveting moment.
In the similarly poignant “Runaway”, Loveless exposes her self-saboteur, detailing the doomed, yet still heartbreaking, end to a love affair. The song starts with a series of self-destructive acts as Loveless’ narrator describes how she tries to put off the inevitable, throwing obstacles in her way. The track builds through the deceptively simple structure before she fairly howls the self-aware refrain, “I don’t like to run / I just like to run away.”
Songs like “French Restaurant” and “Runaway” show a very literary strain in Loveless’ songwriting. She doesn’t try to wrap up these stories with neat endings when she writes these tales of heartache. It’s as if happy endings would feel too cheap and easy. Instead, she revels in the difficult. In the complicated. It doesn’t feel like pop therapy so much as pop catharsis.
In one of Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way Again‘s best tunes, “Do the Right Thing”, we get the complete picture of Loveless’ complexity in its self-contradictory glory. Throughout the LP, we hear her repeatedly admit her faults, and yet we also hear her work to push through those issues. In “Do the Right Thing”, she explores her feelings for someone already taken. Instead of being messy, she vows to keep her love lust under her hat. “Some things should be kept secret,” she wisely sings, pointing out, “it would serve no real purpose to tell you.”
The song highlights her push-pull; she wants to tell the object of her affection of her feelings, yet she can’t because she “won’t win your heart unfairly.” When she ends the track on the lilting – yet resilient – line, “I guess being only your friend has to be good enough / I want the rush of knowing that I did the right thing for once,” we get to hear that continuous struggle that she chronicles in all of the songs on Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way Again. She faces these issues with brilliant songwriting.