Reality is old news. Magic and make-believe are where the money’s at. But Ohio-living singer and guitarist Lydia Loveless and her band make an argument in defense of real life on LP4, Real, a record about the difference between right and wrong. The verdict? Maybe there is no difference.
Bringing bouts of surf twang, no-wave tangles, and chopped-up power chords, the record blurs boundaries of genre, its eighth notes alternately swung and then made straight again. The band (Todd May, Ben Lamb, Jay Gasper, George Hondroulis, Andy Harrison) shines across the changes in support of Loveless’s powerful voice, especially on the standout “Same to You,” a song about a partner indifferent to your pain, on which the band accentuates every curve of the explosive form. Other highlights include the bittersweet “More Than Ever” and the closing title track.
Sonically, it’s a rock record, but the stories themselves are all country. The 10 songs involve frankly-drawn portraits and traveling tales: seemingly real memories of betrayal and abandonment, of picked fights, of more than one wasted chance, of emotional walls, of killed moods, of fear of tomorrow — of the sting of self-awareness felt right as it breaks, and always a little too late. “I need to get a clue, it’s true,” Loveless admits on the single “Longer,” while producer Joe Viers’s dashes of pitch correction tug at us like a pedal steel.
Finding ways to reframe shame as a public feeling, from which loneliness is actually a form of relief, Loveless sings on “Bilbao”: “I take a walk, I’d rather be lonely than ashamed/ Of all the girls that think they know your name.” Here and elsewhere, she channels gutsy legend Loretta Lynn. On a 1976 single, Lynn insists: “Somebody, somewhere don’t know what he’s missin’ tonight/ Lord, here sits a woman, just lonesome enough to be right.” At the end of the day, Lynn’s and Loveless’s songs resonate because they recount all forms of abusive dynamics with conviction; they recall expired righteousness with a distance worthy of admiration.
Loveless is fearless when she tells us, “They’re always mad at me/ You wanna lock me in the kennel and then leave for Myrtle Beach,” on her tribute to Midwestern guys, “Midwestern Guys.” And on “Same to You,” she sings, “I’ll have to take a few so I don’t talk back,” but she keeps talking. If this narrator ever seems bitter, anyone who’s ever been kept quiet by a coward knows bitter is his word for a world that won’t placate him. For those who have ever been made to feel like a fraud (a “hayseed, a phony,” as Loveless puts it), Real will arrive like water in August. We know what we’ve done, but we’re tough as nails, and we don’t give a shit. Really, we do, though, and that’s what makes this record so precious. It deserves to be cherished.