3.5 stars (out of 4)
Lydia Loveless’ narrators are part of a long tradition: the bleary, haunted bar-fly in a Sinatra saloon ballad, the betrayed wife in a Loretta Lynn two-step who can’t decide whether she wants to kill her husband or fight to keep him, the bruised but indomitable girls-next-door who fell hard for the bad boys in the Shangri-La’s, the love-as-drug-withdrawal narratives of Lucinda Williams.
The Ohio singer-songwriter dives into that messy tradition on “Somewhere Else” (Bloodshot), her third and best album. She sings like she’s driving a boot into someone’s shins, tempered by a vibrato that gives all that desperation a measure of poignance. The narratives -- conflating desire and love, rage and need, tears and guns – reflect a complexity that gives these songs staying power.
The no-frills music matches Loveless’ intensity: tangled guitars, no-let-up drums, a hint of countryish twang. In “Really Wanna See You,” Loveless is high and feeling alone at a party, and while the band blasts away she reaches out to an old lover who is now married. She often plays the aggressor who won’t take “no” for an answer and wants her lovers – current, past and imagined – to meet her more than halfway. But she’s self-deprecating about it. “What the hell was I hoping for?” she mutters in “Chris Issak.”
Obsession gives way to the physical and psychic neediness of “Head” and the murderous desire of “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” – 19th Century French poets-lovers who tight-rope the line between beauty and violence, as many of these songs do. And yet, Loveless still has enough of a pop sensibility to quote Tommy Tutone in “Somewhere Else” and to cover the late Kirsty MacColl’s “They Don’t Know.” But even over the chiming melody of the latter, she sounds like she’s ready to defend her turf at all costs.