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Serenity Never: Lydia Loveless Brings a Gritty, Witchy Arsonist’s Zeal to ‘Somewhere Else’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: February 18, 2014
Label: Bloodshot

Lydia Loveless makes unreasonable demands, and she damn well knows it. This 23-year-old Ohioan country-punk singer does a line at a party and decides to pester a married ex; French symbolists make her crave a man devoted enough to lodge a bullet in her wrist. “Don’t stop giving me head,” she commands, authoritatively enough to imply an unsaid “ever.” But whether it’s dedication or stamina she seeks, it’s constant stimulation she requires. For Loveless, “I guess I’m just the spoiled brat my daddy said that I was” is the proud regret of a woman granted the courage to accept a thing she cannot change and the wisdom to know serenity’s a crock.

There are odd nods on Somewhere Else — her third full-length and second for Bloodshot — to an ’80s Loveless didn’t live a day through: a passing Tommy Tutone quote, a version of Kirsty MacColl’s sublime “They Don’t Know,” a slinky little number called “Chris Isaak.” But her full-throated attack and guitarist Todd May’s twang-snarled guitar, which splits the diff between Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and Johnny Thunders’, also recall a less-remembered version of that decade. An era when punk taught decent, God-fearing people to scuff up country music like a pitcher hoping for a better grip on a new ball, when Lone Justice’s Maria McKee just reared back and sang the shit out of some shit, when Jason and the Scorchers raced each other to the next song, before the poorly named “cowpunk” congealed into the worse-named “alt.county” and became all too often a music of fretful backward glances.

Loveless, she only ever looks over her shoulder when the wind’s in her face and she needs to spit. And she probably needs to. Desire lodges in her chest like a phlegm-clot; her mucosal tone earns those Stevie Nicks comparisons you’ve maybe seen. But you’ve got to imagine Stevie stripped of her scarves and witchery by a resentful coven, abandoned in Columbus, Ohio, with nothing to fall back on but her innate grit, developing the array of vocal slurs, catches, yawps, and leaps that a woman starting out with no expectations needs once she realizes she wants the world. And if that doesn’t work out, and Loveless has to retreat defeated to her dumpy hometown? “I’ll find a rich man’s house and I’ll burn it down.” Which come to think of it, doesn’t really sound all that unreasonable.