Lissie, AKA Elisabeth Corrin Maurus, clearly is not running low on affecting alt. country/folk-rock paeans that discuss the highs and lows of love, life and loss. Her debut Catching A Tiger was applauded in 2010, with many commenting on her knack for hooks and relatable, single-worthy tracks. Its follow-up, Back To Forever, has been produced by Jacknife Lee, so one could assume a stylistic change is on the horizon. And indeed, the Illinois troubadour doesn’t hold back on the pop on her second LP – if you thought her debut was a record of infectious motifs and viral refrains, this one is a plague.
Lead single ‘Further Away (Romance Police)’ dawns with shivering guitars and ’80s hair-metal pomp. Lissie’s familiar fire-crackle drawl burbles over the top – though not for long; soon enough, the almighty chorus erupts. “Does anyone love anyone anymore?” bites like socially motivated pop should, and as the swaggering duchess spills her lungs, there’s twangs of Gwen Stefani with Harajuku Girl backing vox stabbing like technicolour stilettos. After the glossy motorik dwindles, imagine, if you will, the most pompous-ass Axl Rose-esque guitar solo (as in it sounds like Rose has become the freakin’ music) in existence. Yep, Lissie whacks that in, and it’s perfect.
‘Shameless’ blurs a line between Shania Twain, Shirley Manson and Lana Del Rey – there’s a shuffling semi-hip-hop sprechgesang, quivering ’90s rock squeals and strummed power ballad madness. It congeals into a behemoth of chart-poised noise. ‘I Don’t Wanna Go To Work’ is what Taylor Swift probably had stuffed up her sleeve for the next record – disco grooves and early-morning country-rock tangoing together, paving the way for Lissie’s deliciously vapid chorus: “I don’t wanna go to work/ you don’t pay me what I’m worth/ can’t make me go home now and go to bed!” It’s a resounding earworm. The most obvious thing on a lot of these songs is how Lissie has an au fait knowledge of the current Top 40 microcosm. It’s an album rife with de rigueur titbits that will provide an allure to casual listeners.
But it’s not all big pop belters and pretty ditties. There’s bite; there’s substance. ‘Mountaintop Removal’ is a sharp critique levied upon industrialisation and the callousness of major corporations. Also, there’s a few acid words against her nation: “America! Americans! What are we doing?/ America! I am American, what say we start again?” Clearly she’s not abandoned hope for saving her homeland, but she’s got a few suggestions on how to… improve situations. It’s a rabble-rousing number bent on summoning ire in the proletariat. Screeching axes, thumping drums and classic rock hallmarks will appeal to patriots – it does all sound staggeringly, chest-pumpingly USA-ish. This side of the pond, there’s still lessons to be gleaned, and even if it’s not as relevant, who cares – with a chorus this big, it’ll still rattle in your brain for days.
Lissie’s got a splendid blend of chic pop strains and galvanising statements. She appears not too fond of urban life, industry and the 9-5 grind; what she does seem to like is love (when it goes right), natural beauty and what she thinks the Stars and Stripes should represent. It’s wholesome in a way, but thoroughly critical in others. Where the biggest problems that face some popstars revolve around “trying to domesticate” the “baddest bitch” (cheers for that misogyny Mr. Thicke), Lissie’s woes are focused on the dilapidated world we live in. Sure, she has her romantic pitfalls too, but combined with her vocal worry of how the world is circling the shitter, you’ve got yourself an emotionally-wrought and varied collection of songs.
Back to Forever is a fully-realised pop album and grandiose to a fault. It’s got a fair share of cheesy moments, but they’re endearing – this ain’t no processed burger pap, it’s a hunk of complex Stilton, a cheese that makes you ponder the deeper recesses of life.