I was stunned to learn that Lydia Loveless’ Real is actually her fourth full-length album. Given the buzz of her preceding 2014 album Somewhere Else, I thought there would be a societal mainstream break-out party for this effort. I was only somewhat right.
Loveless filmed her first official music videos. She performed on network television. She is currently touring to support Drive-By Truckers. And she’s the subject of her own documentary. The latter isn’t VH1’s Behind the Music so I think it’s safe to assume the road is more ahead of her than behind.
Loveless doesn’t pull any tricks on Real, which makes it all the more engaging. Real is a relatively straightforward alt-country album in the spirit of the aforementioned Drive-By Truckers with the requisite themes of love, heartbreak and more heartbreak, but what stands out is a remarkable vulnerability that permeates through almost every song.
Loveless’ laments on “Bilbao” are excruciating with a lyric repeating so many times you’d think there was absolutely no hope left (“Marry me / There’s nowhere in the world that I would rather be”). “Longer” is more upbeat, but more in the ’90s pop rock sort of way rather than the fantastic happy ending everyone wishes. “Clumps” is a stripped-down acoustic affair that aches and breaks (“See you on the other side / Oh my god, you make me feel alive”).
The smooth disco-tinged vibes of “Heaven” are quite refreshing, as they reveal another level to Loveless’ sensibilities beyond what she’d done before. She defies tradition and boundaries: “And we could stay together / But paradise is only for the weakling / No one goes to heaven.”
Real is generally considered to be Loveless’ poppiest album yet, which she doesn’t necessarily apologize for. “Yeah, I think the songs just kind of direct themselves for me,” Loveless stated in an interview last month with OnMilwaukee.com. “It’s not like I was going for poppy or slicker; it’s just that that’s where we were at the time.
“And I don’t think pop is a dirty word at all either.”