Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Attempted Mustache - Loudon Wainwright III

Attempted Mustache
Loudon Wainwright III
Columbia KC 32710

A few weeks ago I saw Loudon Wainwright III play a delightful show at Levitt Pavilion.  It was just him and his guitar.  He primarily did his newer songs which tend to focus on death, decay and depression as he proudly admits.  He seems to be reveling in being a nasty old curmudgeon.  All of my Wainwright records are from the 1970s when he reveled in being an obnoxious young smart aleck.  Then and now his saving grace was his humor and self-deprecating style.  He did do one song off this album, the lead track, "The Swimming Song" which sounded great on a warm summer night in Los Angeles.  On the album it is driven by a banjo and features a rhythm section that gives it more oomph than his solo performance but not as much charm.  "A. M. World" is a raucous tune that reminds me of Randy Newman the way it blends noisy rock with a music hall style tune.  Its rich sarcasm is also suggestive of Newman as it mocks rock stars including a dig at Neil Young. "Bell Bottom Pants" is dedicated to the United States Navy presumably since sailor pants were supposedly the inspiration for bell bottom pants.  The hideous fad for the pants in the 1970s is the subject of the song.  "Liza" is about Wainwright's childhood friendship with Liza Minnelli and how he drove her around in her toy electric Thunderbird.  The song is sung a cappella and sounds like an old folk song.  Oddly enough, Wainwright's son Rufus also recently wrote a song about Minnelli, "Me and Liza."  "I am the Way" is based on Woody Guthrie's "New York Town" which was about a guy down on his luck in New York City but still bragging about his romantic prowess.  Wainwright changes the words to be about Jesus although he still brags about his romances (Mary Magdalene).  The song was recorded live in concert and captures Wainwright's engaging charm as a performer.  It is my favorite track on the album.  In "Clockwork Chartreuse" Wainwright riffs on Kubrick's film "A Clockwork Orange" describing a couple of louts itching for some ultra-violence.  Wainwright rocks out on this one.  Side two opens with the bluesy "Down Drinking at the Bar" which mocks an alcoholic.  With its honky-tonk piano and howling guitars it is one of the strongest songs on the album from a musical standpoint.  The epic "The Man Who Couldn't Cry" is the strongest song from a lyrical standpoint.  It is loaded with black humor as Wainwright sings about a guy who cannot cry despite all the awful things that happen to him in the song.  He only cries when it rains and when a massive storm comes he cries until he dies of dehydration.  He goes to heaven and bad things happen to all the people who wronged him in the song.  It sounds silly, but the spare acoustic guitar riff and Wainwright's compelling vocal make the song powerful.  "Come A Long Way" was written by Kate McGarrigle who was married to Wainwright at the time.  The song is about a break-up and is a lot more earnest and poetic than is typical with Wainwright.  In "Nocturnal Stumblebutt" Wainwright has insomnia and is clumsily roaming his house in the dark looking for a cigarette while trying not to disturb his sleeping wife.  He finally finds one and concludes the song telling his wife "just to show I love you, not gonna look for an ashtray baby, gonna use your shoe."  Ha-ha, what a prince!  The song has a funky, swampy sound to it that I find appealing.  "Dilated to Meet You" is a greeting to his new born son Rufus delivered with some good-natured humor.  Appropriately McGarrigle sings harmony on the low key song which I think is a charming addition to the song.  Charm is entirely absent from "Lullaby" which is also directed at baby Rufus but it is considerably meaner essentially ordering him to shut up and go to sleep.  The nastiness of the lyrics is leavened a bit by the mellow music and a laconic vocal from Wainwright.  Throughout his career Wainwright has used his life and family for song fodder which probably isn't very pleasant if you are related to him.  He can be nasty but he does not spare himself either as was evident in his concert where he presented himself as a broken down old man with depression issues.  He may be an asshole but I admire his candor and with his knack for humor I'm inclined to be more tolerant of some of his excesses.  At least he's not boring, that's for sure.  Recommended to people who think Bob Dylan is too nice.

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