Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else
By Stephen M. Deusner February 17, 2014
In the first song on her third full-length, Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless goes to a party, does some blow, calls up an ex, and tries to break up his marriage. A few songs later, she compares herself to Paul Verlaine, the 19th-century French poet whose relationship with the teenageArthur Rimbaud was notoriously violent. On another song, our heroine drinks herself to sleep while dreaming of an old lover and his talents between the sheets. Never leery of casting herself as the homewrecker, the other woman, or the spurned lover, Loveless writes lyrics that are frank (“I just like it so much better when we’re coming to blows”) and often explicit (“Don’t stop giving me head”). Her songs are based in country, but she tweaks the forms and formulas of the genre with a bleary belligerence that is, more often than not, directed at herself. Her self-destructive streak makes Somewhere Else both a bracing and a deeply harrowing listen.
Loveless hails from Columbus, Ohio, and she’s so far the most visible member of a very musical family: Both sisters are in local groups, and before she had to fire him, her dad played drums in her backing band. After a slick debut and a more countrified follow-up on Bloodshot Records (which earned her a shout-out from Richard Hell), Somewhere Elsesounds like the lyrical and musical culmination of a short career spent kicking at the conventions of alt-country. The album takes more risks than its predecessors did, showcasing a rough-and-tumble bar-band sound that dispenses with the twang in favor of barbed guitars and rowdy rock rumble. Loveless and her band recall the West Coast cowpunk attitude of early 80s acts like Lone Justice, plus the sexual candor of heyday Liz Phair.
Loveless’ frankness threatens to make a her a novelty, but there’s some sharp humor and deep hurt here. “When I was 17 I’d follow men around with my head jammed way in their ass,” she sings on “Chris Isaak”, and it sounds ridiculous. Fortunately the next line is, “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to still be able to conjure up energy like that”—which implies that making a wreck of your life is preferable to doing nothing at all with it. Even as Somewhere Elsedescends into romantic mania, Loveless keeps her wits about her. She sings “Head”, arguably the album’s best and most urgent track, as though her despair had turned sexual. Loveless storms into the chorus, turning the repeated lines into a potent hook and delivering an abrasive guitar solo that conveys what the lyrics cannot.
Perhaps Loveless knows she needs to find a better hero than Verlaine, who remains the epitome of tortured-soul creativity, yet on “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” she craves the heady inspiration as much as the violent intensity of affection: “I just wanna know that I’m the one that makes you write that shit.” Halfway between French Romantic and Nashville outlaw, Loveless’ songwriting can come across sometimes as overly bleak and therefore sensationalistic, yet Somewhere Else makes such boldness a virtue, as thought decorum blunts creative expression. So it’s all the more curious that the album ends with an upbeat cover ofKirsty MacColl’s postpunk/girl-group anthem “They Don’t Know”, a song about romance as a form of rebellion. Loveless doesn’t radically depart from the original, retaining the structure, tempo, tone, even the exclamation of “Baby!” halfway through. As a B-side or even a mid-album track, such a modest interpretation might be negligible, but after so many songs about tortured relationships and roiling regret, the song is almost triumphal as a closer, especially when Loveless testifies, “Now that I’ve found good love, I’m gonna make it last.” Then again, “They” might as well be “You,” as Loveless perhaps suspects her audience of tsk-tsking her love life. She doesn’t need your concern, just your ears.