“Don’t wanna be lonely…” Lydia Loveless wistfully croons as “Bilbao” wafts to its close.
Loveless has built her songwriting career working out that reconciliation between everyone’s fundamental desire to have someone to love and the recognition of when a personal relationship sours and cutting that cord.
To Loveless’ credit, she shows no fear in her frank admissions that that cord often requires bolt cutters more often than it does simple craft scissors, particularly in the world of Midwestern small towns where it’s nigh on impossible to outrun gossip and supermarket run-ins.
On her prior pair of LPs, Loveless made it clear that unencumbered country-rock was her bread and butter and an ideal vehicle for her no bullshit tales of drunk dialing exes or the fleeting satisfaction of a one-night stand. On Real, shes' made a conscious effort to add a thick polish, electronic accents, and a bright and punchy poppiness to her sound.
Having executed on her prior LPs so flawlessly, one would rightfully approach Real’s sonic expansion with trepidation, but Loveless’ songwriting is simply too strong to let it fail. “Longer”s 80s-flavoured synths and “Heaven”s breezy, tropical swing provide appealing foils to Real’s more straight-forward alt-country tracks.
Her knack for melody, ever-present since the beginning but now thrown into sharp relief here, and her impressive vocal elasticity pull everything off with aplomb, her hint of twang never letting us forget it’s a Lydia Loveless tune.
Real’s finest victory is perhaps how Loveless conveys no less emotional gravity by boiling down her language to the essentials; marrying high-gloss rock muscle with her simple declaration “you can just hold my hand, if you want to run away with me” on the closing title track, for instance, is the stuff of burgeoning, heart-on-the-sleeve legend.
Loveless’s pop turn is a significant irony for an artist who has prided herself for her lyrical and musical authenticity and persistent quest to trample the stigmas associated with such perceived vices as ephemeral relationships and hard-partying habits. In never compromising her spirit and message on Real, Loveless has once again proven to cast her as the more genuine and mature alternative to another country-turned-pop artist born at the turn of the 1990s.
For this Midwestern guy now living down South, Real’s stew of unabashed honesty, townie bar arena rock muscle, and uncomplicated discussion of life’s and love’s complications feels just like home. It doesn’t get any realer than that.