Song of the Day #290: ‘Little Rock Star’ – Lucinda Williams

littlehoneySadly, the draconian Warner Music Group decision to pull all their content from YouTube has forced me to skip over Lucinda Williams’ next two albums — World Without Tears and West — and straight to her latest release, Little Honey. I really hope WMG pulls its head out of its ass and realizes that they’re doing nothing but losing free advertising and generating a lot of ill will.

World Without Tears came just two years after Essence and was Williams’ most ambitious record yet. She rocked harder than ever on the album and explored talking blues (bordering on rap) on a couple of tunes. She also delivered her rawest lyrics yet… miles away from the sweet acoustic love songs of 20+ years earlier.

Take ‘Minneapolis,’ a song I believe describes the emotional turmoil stemming back to a rape.

I can always trace it back
To that night in Minneapolis
Here on the seventh floor in a room I can’t call mine
Deadbolt on the door, do not disturb sign
Shaking and trembling
On the clean white linen
Slivers of starlight across the ceiling

A dozen yellow roses
All that’s left in Minneapolis
I wish I’d never seen your face or heard your voice
You’re a bad pain in my gut
I wanna spit you out
Open up this wound again
Let my blood flow red and thin
Into the glistening
Into the whiteness
Into the melting snow of Minneapolis

Yikes. No more passionate kisses for this gal. Most of the album covers this same aching territory and it’s not always an easy listen. The songcraft is as good as ever but it’s an album better appreciated than loved.

Up next, after a four-year break, was West, an album that I do love despite a few flaws. It’s similar in sound to her earlier albums though with a more polished sheen. Williams deals with the loss of her mother in a couple of songs on this record, including ‘Fancy Funeral,’ in which she dismisses the calls by family members to make extravagant funeral arrangements:

So don’t buy a fancy funeral
It’s not worth it in the end
Goodbyes can still be beautiful
Without the money that you’ll spend
There’s no amount of riches
Will bring back what you lost
To satisfy your wishes
You’ll never justify the cost

West contains a couple of clunkers (the 9-minute ‘Wrap My Head Around That’ front and center) but it also contains some of Williams’ most effective songs, including ‘Everything Has Changed,’ ‘Learning How to Live’ and ‘Where is My Love?’ (which wins more points by mentioning a favorite town of mine):

Is my love in Gainesville
Pretty, radiant and warm
Drinkin’ whiskey ’til he’s had his fill
Inspired by a summer storm?

Williams’ next (and most recent) album came out just a year after West — the shortest span between records in her career. Little Honey is her strongest work since Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. I reviewed the album last year, so I won’t bother repeating myself here.

‘Little Rock Star’ is one of my favorite tracks on Little Honey. It’s a plea for the redemption of Pete Doherty or Amy Winehouse or any number of talented but self-destructive musicians who seem hell-bent on dying young.

It’s clear you have a death wish
From what I hear
Your latest dish lives for you
It scares you half to death

You bend over backwards to make a statement
Hang from the rafters and lick the pavement
Split your lip and barely catch a breath

Your lovely eyes that close like petals
Your sweet surprise can win you medals
You strut your stuff and fan your peacock feathers

Even if you fake it to get attention
Whatever it’ll take to get them to listen
Piss on your designer boots and designer leathers

Hey little rock star
Why don’t you see
This is not all that it’s cracked up to be?
And I can’t say I blame you
For throwing the towel in
For buying more fame
By cashing your chips in
With all of your talent
And so much to gain
To toss it away like this
Would be such a shame

Juvenile delinquent, misunderstood
Peter Pan and Robin Hood
Will you ever do the things you’re afraid to do?
Will you ever know happiness, little rock star?
Or is your death wish stronger than you are?
Will you go up in flames like the torches that are carried for you?

10 thoughts on “Song of the Day #290: ‘Little Rock Star’ – Lucinda Williams

  1. Dana says:

    Another good song, but I realize that, ultimately, what keeps me from jumping on the Lucinda bandwagon is her voice. Just a bit to slurry and lethargic for my personal taste. This is probably why I ultimately like Passionate Kisses better from Carpenter.

  2. Amy says:

    Did we discuss this song during some other thread? It seems familiar. Thanks for the brief summary of the albums you couldn’t feature. Your appreciation of Williams makes me want to give her music a try more than any single song you’ve featured. I love the complialtion you made a few years ago, and my favorite song from that mix is “Little Angel, Little Brother.”

  3. Clay says:

    I’m just the opposite, Dana… Williams’ voice is one of the things I like best about her. I find I’m drawn to a lot of the non-traditional, love-it-or-hate-it voices out there, from Williams to Rufus Wainwright, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan and so on. Of course I have an aversion to Neil Young’s voice, so I guess it’s not a general rule.

    Amy, this song came up in a thread about Amy Winehouse, I believe.

  4. Dana says:

    Funny you should mention Rufus, because, in an odd way, both voices have a similar lethargic quality–and it sort of turns me off in both cases.

  5. Clay says:

    I guess I’m a sucker for lethargy! 🙂

  6. Dana says:

    You do like your whiny voices:)

  7. Clay says:

    I think slurry and lethargic is a separate category from whiny. I do, of course, like whiny voices too (see: Morrissey, Belle and Sebastian, Ben Folds). But please respect the distinction!

  8. Dana says:

    Well. I think Lucinda gets into a bit of a whine at times as well. Rufus, of course, lives in whine country. I don’t really hear whine in B&S or Folds.

  9. Clay says:

    I love them to death, but Belle & Sebastian are most certainly whiners. Not sure if whining is the best way to describe Folds’ vocal limitations, but like all of these his is a non-traditional voice. Dylan is probably best characterized as a whiner, too.

  10. Dana says:

    I don’t see Dylan as a whiner. To me, the whine voice consists of holding your notes in a slurry fashion, like Rufus and Lucinda. You can probably add David Byrne to that list. Others, like Costello, Folds, etc., do have “non-traditional” voices, but not that whiney quality.

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