For Lydia Loveless, “Real” isn’t merely a title for her newest genre-bending record. It’s essentially a state of mind that is alternately fleeting, indefinable and, ultimately, a little dangerous.
“If self control is what you want,” the 25-year-old Columbus, Ohio songstress sings with no small sense of resignation during the record’s third tune, “More Than Ever,” “I’d have to break all my fingers off.” Well, that’s pretty real, especially when the remark is inserted into lyrics of self-doubt and emotional confrontation that are framed by a bittersweet pop melody. The song, as with the other nine tunes making up Loveless’ fine third album for the famed indie label Bloodshot, sounds stunningly complete, a pop nugget that is as forthright in terms of story as it is musically engaging.
While her songs have regularly been discussed in equal terms with the confessional-leaning works of Loretta Lynn, a more exact comparison would be Bloodshot alum Neko Case, an artist who used country candor as a means for surreal pop exploration.
Walter Tunis reviewing Lydia Loveless’ “Real”
Loveless has been promoted in recent years, perhaps misleadingly, as a young honky tonk insurgent. That claim holds some merit, given the emotional bluntness of her songs and a vocal approach full of raw, uncompromising reflection. While her songs have regularly been discussed in equal terms with the confessional-leaning works of Loretta Lynn, a more exact comparison would be Bloodshot alum Neko Case, an artist who used country candor as a means for surreal pop exploration. Loveless even approximates the gorgeous clarity of Case’s singing several times on “Real,” but ultimately settles on earthier yet more unsettled pop sounds that aren’t afraid to let their country roots show.
Sometimes the pop leanings are very broad. “Longer” kicks off with a countdown worthy of The Ramones before downshifting into leisurely but chunky guitar riffs and a fuzzy melodic stride that sounds lifted out of MTV’s 1980s heyday. “It’s true, I need to get a clue,” she sings. “But give me a little longer to get over you.” The sentiments are country-esque in their sense of want, but the multi-tracked vocal wash that coats the end of the chorus confirms the song’s hearty pop smarts.
Then there are instances when the attitude of “Real” surrenders unapologetically to pop escapism, as on “Heaven,” where the record hits the dance floor with a neo-disco groove and a summery guitar stride. But the lyrics suggest a mood that is hardly party worthy. “Paradise is only for the weak man,” Loveless sings amid the beats and keyboard colorings. “No one gets to heaven.”
The purposely unsteady emotive stance of “Real” is underscored during the album-closing title tune, where a literal flight of fancy is accepted and embraced. “He’s gonna take my shaky hand, and I know he’s no Peter Pan. But I really need him to be now.” Such is the sobering but thoroughly absorbing reality check of “Real.”