I knew this album would take a while to write. Lo and behold it would take over a month after its release to write. I knew this from the first listen because this is not the type of album you will take to at first. It would be a grower and reviewing it after five listens wouldn’t be fair. So I sat on it for a while and kept listening until finally I feel like I’ve got a great grasp of what Lydia Loveless aimed to capture with her new album Real. Born in Coshocton and residing in Columbus, Ohio, the alternative country artist has certainly racked up her fair share of critical acclaim over the last few years. She’s definitely the type of artist who goes to the beat of her own drum and isn’t afraid to get dark with her music. And she’s only 26 years old, with a long career still ahead of her. While her previous album Somewhere Else released in 2014 was solidly in the alternative country/Americana sound, her new album Real takes quite the sonic turn to the point that many probably wouldn’t even call it country. Regardless of what genre you put it in though, this is an album that absolutely shines from start to finish with its honest songwriting.
Ominous guitars ring in “Same To You.” Loveless’ distinctive voice is something that will stick with you upon the very first time you hear her sing, one of the many things that makes her standout amongst her peers. This opening song of the album deals with the end of a relationship and both sides accepting that things are over, even though one seems to want to try to keep things going on. It’s a solid song to open the album. One of the first songs released off the album, “Longer,” is next. Once again Loveless dives into heartbreak headfirst, as the song is about a woman struggling to get over the end of a relationship and just wanting to spend the day in bed (like the music video for it perfectly depicts). She keeps telling herself she just needs a little bit longer to get over her heartbreak, only to keep repeating this everyday. The song really encapsulates that feeling of helplessness and despair after having your heart-broken.
“More Than Ever” stays in the same vein of exploring relationships and is one of the softer toned tracks on the album. In this song a woman confronts her man cheating on her. The sonic twist I foretold of at the beginning of the review really shows up on “Heaven.” The instrumentation captures the glitz and glamour of 80s pop, a stark contrast to Loveless’ previous albums. But the sound suits her like a glove. Most artists wouldn’t be able to pull of this sonic shift. In some ways it reminds me of a song Linda Ronstadt would cut, but the sound reminds me of something on a Lionel Richie album. Up next is “Out On Love.” It’s the type of song we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Loveless. Her vocals are at it’s absolute best, as she bears her emotions out on this raw love song. Despite her sonic embellishments throughout the album, this songwriting reminds you of why you should be listening to her music.
The song I’ll probably remember the most off this album though is “Midwestern Guys.” It’s pretty straightforward: it’s about midwestern guys and their lives. Now as a Ohioan and Midwestern guy, I knew this song was dead on as soon as the line about them wanting to go to Myrtle Beach was uttered from Loveless. She got inspiration from multiple midwestern guys for this song and I just can’t believe how well she nailed the midwestern life. I will say though for the record I do not like Def Leppard’s Pyromania or any of their other music for that matter. “Bilbao” is probably the happiest song on Real (well it’s happy in terms of this album). The song is about a woman expressing to her man how much she loves him and asks her to marry him. But he’s distant, figuratively and possibly literally. He doesn’t seem to show the same interest in her and so the song comes off more as wishful dreaming by someone who knows it’s too late for this love to happen.
The quirkiest song on the album is “European.” As Loveless has said in multiple interviews, her inspiration for this song came from her touring in Europe and her fascination by European guys who treated kissing so nonchalantly to Americans. It’s a different kind of song, which is nice. It’s probably my least favorite of the album, but it’s still pretty good. “Clumps” is very much along the same lines of “Bilbao.” There’s a strong passion of love from one side, while the other resents it. This is one song where you really get to hear just Loveless’ voice, as an acoustic guitar is the only instrumentation on this song. The album’s title track closes the album out and really puts a ribbon on all of the themes that are explored on it. It might be the best on it, as Loveless explores the feeling of helplessness a young girl can feel when it comes to love. They watch TV, which distorts their view of what’s real and makes them feel inadequate. It makes them go so far to contemplate suicide until eventually they find someone who isn’t exactly “Peter Pan,” but they make it feel like it. Loveless admits to relating to all of this and this honesty is quite refreshing in a world where plastic themes are common in the mainstream.
Lydia Loveless’ Real is an album that won’t be for everyone, but it should be because it’s pretty great. The sonic changes and the album’s not immediate appeal may turn off some listeners. But for those who are patient, willing to give it a chance and don’t fuss over genre labels, they’re rewarded with an album that deeply explores love and heartbreak. The songwriting is quite sharp and I think the production is really solid on each song, a credit to producer Joe Viers and Loveless herself. I also applaud Loveless for refusing to play by “genre rules” and setting out to make the album she wants to make because the honesty of this album really shines through. Real is the type of record any music fan willing to listen to it will enjoy and respect.