That’s the question posed by a recent documentary that chronicles the making of this alt-country renegade’s latest record. If you’re looking for an answer, then ‘Real’ is a good place to start: it sums up everything that makes Lydia Loveless unique. It’s cynical, it’s saucy, and it’s surprisingly singable. It’s rust-belt romance rock ‘n’ roll with a gritty country edge, and Loveless shines as the tough-but-tender centrepiece.
If her last album ‘Somewhere Else’ was the soundtrack to a wild night of whiskey, then ‘Real’ is the cab ride home. It’s meaner, moodier, and trades in some of the energy for introspection. But it’s still wickedly witty, and packs enough punch to knock your teeth out. Grungy opener ‘Same To You’ echoes like the theme-song of some late-night vigilante, and shows the fondness for twangy distortion that marked Loveless’ last release, whilst shuffling head-bopper ‘European’ harkens further back to Loveless’ country-rock beginnings.
In general, ‘Real’ is a softer beast than Loveless’s previous outings, with a full complement of bittersweet ballads. ‘More Than Ever’ is a rousing power-piece that could knock the stetsons off any passing countryphiles, and ‘Out On Love’ is a spacey slow-burner that gives Loveless’ expressive vocals their well-deserved moment in the spotlight. They’d capped off with ‘Clumps’, a stripped-down two minutes of defiant heart-break that crams in more poignancy than some songwriters manage in a lifetime.
Then there’re the oddballs. Loveless has never been afraid to go off-recipe, but some these tracks have her burn the book entirely. Chief offender is ‘Heaven’, a neo-disco dance track that trades in the alt-riffin’ for INXS drums and Nile Rogers guitars. But Loveless tackles it with her typical take-no-prisoners panache, and turns a sell-out risk into perhaps the album’s standout. There’s also the cheerful ‘Longer’, which adds multi-tracked vocals and pop-rock synthesizers to Loveless’s formidable arsenal.
More than anything, it’s Loveless’ die-hard charisma that carries the album. Every line is like a rallying cry for bruised lovers, and Loveless delivers them like a revolutionary fresh from the fight. In a career defined by a crusade for the authentic, ‘Real’ is aptly named. It’s Loveless’ usual balancing act between cynical humour and conflicted heart-ache, but the defences are down for her forth outing, and we can peek through the cracks at the vulnerability within.
Who is Lydia Loveless? She’s been called a cow punk princess, a rust-belt Courtney Love, Loretta Lynn with a drinking problem and the last great hope for rock ‘n’ roll. But perhaps ‘Real’ gives us our best insight yet into who this uncompromising songstress really is.
‘Real’ is available now on Bloodshot Records.
This Lydia Loveless article was written by Matt George Lovett, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson. Photo by David T. Kindler