Lydia Loveless says that “Real,” her third full-length album for Bloodshot Records, differs from her earlier work: “whereas our previous records could be described as blunt or raw, this one I wanted to be known as honest, as true, as real [rimshot].”
“Real” still comes across as pretty blunt and plenty raw nonetheless. Loveless continues to manifest a remarkable combination of bruised vulnerability and desperate longing, alongside a tough, self-deprecating resilience, but there’s more of the former and less of the latter this time. She’s still preoccupied with the downsides of love: longing for something you don’t (or can’t) have, the inevitable dissolution of whatever you manage to find (and the difficulty of finding it in the first place), and the emotional pitfalls of navigating it.
The tone is set by lead-off track “Same to You,” which portrays an abusive relationship (“I’ll have to take a few so I don’t talk back / Well it’s gonna be one of those days”) from which the woman involved appears to be psychologically unable to exit. “Longer,” one of several songs that expands on the country-punk template of Loveless’s earlier records, weds tough rock and an “ooh ooh” chorus to dealing with the end of a relationship; “Clumps” has the singer, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, matter-of-factly declaring that “love turns into lust and milk turns into clumps.”
The beautifully sad, Rickenbacker-tinged ballad “More Than Ever” evokes the music of another tough-but-tender Ohioan singer, Chrissie Hynde. And both “Heaven” (which finds Loveless and her band getting in touch with their inner Hall & Oates) and “Out on Love” (a stately ballad punctuated by sonic squawks and blips) come across as plays on conflating the insubstantial nature of love and belief: “everything’s an accident”; “I tried but I could not be carried away, I guess I’ll miss out on love.”
In the end, what seems to be most real in “Real” is how few happy endings there are. Or, as Loveless sings, “paradise is only for the weak, man, no one goes to heaven.”
Lydia Loveless performs at Great Scott Nov. 10.
Stuart Munro can be reached at email@example.com.