Lucinda Williams - West

Lucinda Williams

(Lost Highway)

Douglas Heselgrave's #5 album for 2007

John Metzger's #5 album for 2007

Are You Alright?: Memorable Song #1 for 2007

First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2007, Volume 14, #3

Written by John Metzger


Since her commercial breakthrough Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williamsí albums have turned increasingly atmospheric and almost uniformly bleak. Stunningly, the tales of heroin addiction, child abuse, and rape, which filled World without Tears, merely serve as precursors for the devastating depictions of loss that she relays on her latest effort West. Although she attempts to lighten the load by dotting the outingís landscape with arrangements that seem to be searching for a sense of salvation, her lyrics largely find her wallowing in her own misery, mourning, and resentment. Inspired by the death of her mother, her contentious familial relations, and the shattering of a long-term relationship, the song cycle is yet another intriguing endeavor in a career that has been exemplary thus far. Nevertheless, as was the case with Westís predecessor, the cracks in Williamsí facade have become evident, which undoubtedly is a direct byproduct of the more rapid pace of her recent work schedule as well as the pressure that has been placed upon her by the many accolades that she has received.

Williamsí biggest problem of late seems to stem from the fact that she is relying with greater frequency upon her music to do the heavy lifting. Where her words once were chosen so carefully, she now seems content simply to capture moods and feelings in generic terms. The more verbose that her songs become, the more her lyrics begin to feel labored. The place where West veers completely off its course is during Come On, an angered kiss-off to a former lover that strives for the humorous condescension of Chrissie Hyndeís best work. The accompanying music also is designed specifically to invoke the spirit of the Pretenders, but in Williamsí hands the unimaginative approach sounds ridiculously adolescent. Further complicating the situation, she follows Come On with Where Is My Love?, a teary-eyed quest for a boyfriend who has gone astray, and Rescue, a tune in which she realizes that only she can resolve her psychological dilemmas. Simply put, Williams has been better in the past at exploring similar terrain; here, she not only seems confused, but she also treads dangerously close to settling for the sort of pretentious observations that typically spill forth from the blogger community.

By contrast, Westís opening third is impeccable. The backing vocals on Are You Alright? repeat the songís title like a ghostly whisper that calls back to Williams from across the grave, while rays of light stream from the organic, gospel-imbued warmth of Learning How to Liveís reflections upon coping with her losses. With its watery, ethereal keyboard accompaniment, the meditative repetition of Mama You Sweet oscillates between conveying the numbness of her emotions and becoming her personal mantra of perseverance, while the claustrophobic Unsuffer Me, with its icy stabs of razor-sharp guitar tones, embodies the horrifying depths of her pain and anguish. Near the end of the set, Williams finds the escape that she needs by taking solace in her pen (Words) as well as in the freedom that the open road brings (Westís title track), and this proves to be sufficient for binding the collection together in a way that elevates her few missteps. Even when she falters, it seems, Williams is capable of plumbing the darkest corners of her soul and transforming her aching sorrow into something that is hauntingly beautiful. starstarstarstar

West is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2007 The Music Box