"Getting old might make you wiser, like they say it should," Loudon Wainwright III sings at the end of his sage new album, Older Than My Old Man Now. "But getting old's just getting old, and old ain't much damn good."
Over the course of 15 songs — some deeply sardonic, others quietly poetic and a few downright frightening — the 65-year-old veteran songsmith ruminates on mortality, family and the uncomfortably beautiful ways both are linked.
Wainwright has covered some of this ground before, but never so comprehensively. He approaches family this time by singing about his parents, with other members of his musical clan by his side. Life, death and, yes, sex — they all get their say on Older Than My Old Man Now. But nothing here sounds weighty, not even starker remembrances such as All in a Family (sung with the late-night accompaniment of accordion and vocals from daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche) and The Days That We Die (which spins from an opening 1981 narrative written by the singer's late father, Life Magazine columnist Loudon Wainwright Jr., to an elegiac treatise on fragile family relations with son Rufus Wainwright).
In typical Wainwright fashion, there is abundant humor throughout the album, especially when the songs shift from family to fleeting mortality. Double Lifetime (which enlists ageless folk troubadour Ramblin' Jack Elliott) begs for a complete mortal makeover, My Meds ponders better senior life through pharmaceuticals, and Ghost Blues offers a glance back at a weary life from the hereafter.
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But the highlight of the mortal musings is I Remember Sex, a flat-out hysterical remembrance of more mischievous times by an aged couple. Wainwright sings the part of the husband, and cross-dressing Australian comedian Dame Edna Everage (aka Barry Humphries) plays the wife. Bright strains of parlor piano are their only accompaniment. "A thing that we all thought about," Wainwright sings of the subject matter, "and all that we thought of; that distant crazy cousin to the scary thing called love."
The title tune, which again opens with the recitation of an essay by Loudon Jr., places all these adventures in context. As the title implies, the song honors a milestone that father Wainwright didn't attain while realizing just how fleeting Loudon III's own time on earth has become.
"I wasn't sure the day would come," Wainwright sings. "I'd been living under his thumb. But I don't feel so free. I don't even feel like me, now that there is no race left to run."
Older Than My Old Man Now's regularly brilliant music comes instilled with reflections of a wistful past, becomes anchored by family visions of the present and future and yet remains open to humor that is never less than human.